Liberty Alliance adds technical muscle

Bridgewater Systems joins the Sun-led group looking to set up an online authentication rival to Microsoft's Passport. It's bringing its network ID know-how to the quest to set a standard.

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The Liberty Alliance Project added a new member on Wednesday, boosting its efforts to establish an online authentication plan to compete with Microsoft's Passport online ID system.

Bridgewater Systems said it plans to provide technical expertise in network identification and authentication to Liberty's quest to establish new standards in online authentication systems.

The Canadian software developer joins a growing number of companies aligned with Sun Microsystems' Liberty Alliance effort. Heavyweights like American Express, America Online and Hewlett-Packard are among the other members. The group is trying to establish a standard method for online identification that would let a computer user log on once, to one Web site, then have other sites recognize that user as authenticated.

Bridgewater supplies software to network service providers that allows them to differentiate access to wireline and wireless services based on the identity of the user or the application. This capability, Bridgewater said, lets service providers solve problems such as how to account for services and track them, and how to prevent unauthorized access.

The Liberty Alliance was formed last September in response to Microsoft's single sign-on authentication system called Passport, which has already signed up more than 14 million users, according to research firm the Gartner Group.

Sun and Microsoft, already bitter rivals on several fronts, are each rushing to build and market an authentication system that consumers and businesses alike will trust. Such identity systems are an essential ingredient if next-generation Web services are to actually become mainstream, bringing useful new Internet services to businesses and consumers.

Sun is counting on Liberty to become part of the pantheon of Web services standards, and it has been pushing to have such specifications be royalty-free. Liberty's "single sign-on" standard is based on another newly released standard, the Security Assertion Markup Language.