Card Use Can Stem ID Theft, Microsoft Says

Microsoft this week released a white paper on identity theft with the aim of starting a "vendor-neutral" discussion on the use of "information cards" as an Internet security solution.

In its call to arms, "Online Identity Theft: Changing the Game" (PDF), Redmond said it wants to advance its "vision" in conjunction with government entities, law enforcement agencies, industry peers and ordinary consumers.

Information cards are generated by software -- they are not physical cards such as credit or ATM cards. Microsoft's white paper considers them to be "an interoperable, neutral framework" and a cost-effective answer to alleviating identity theft. The cards are "a basic tool to reduce online identity theft and increase confidence in e-commerce and other online services," according to the report.

The appeal for collaboration comes as Microsoft is already well into implementing its Windows CardSpace technology. CardSpace is Microsoft's current information card technology. It's a client application for Windows operating systems that stores digital identities.

Some security and IT pros are giving Redmond kudos for reaching out to the larger community and agree that a streamlined framework for personal identifiable information is needed.

"A vendor-neutral plan is essential. Absolute power corrupts absolutely," said Randy Abrams, director of technical education for ESET.

"This is one area that is critical to the future of commerce as it is currently taking shape," Abrams added. "The critical element to look closely at is if the technology can be implemented without also causing unacceptable incursions on privacy. That will be a difficult balancing act to pull off.

Microsoft bolstered its identity security expertise by acquiring Credentica's U-Prove technology this year. U-Prove is said to allow authentication while preserving anonymity. Microsoft is currently integrating U-Prove into CardSpace and other software.

Many authentication technologies exist, and new business PCs are typically including them, according Steven Sprague, president and CEO of Massachusetts-based security software firm Wave Systems Corp.

More than "250 million PCs now have now been delivered to users with hardware to facilitate strong authentication," Sprague estimated.

"Should [information cards] be where Redmond is focusing its security efforts?" Sprague asked. "I'd say yes, the time is now to begin to address the authentication problem at scale. As Microsoft has stated, it is time to turn it on and get everyone to play."

Sprague sees two components to identity security.

"One can think of it as two key pieces: the differentiation between the trustworthiness of fellow users and the identity provider; and second, the question of whether one is truly associated with the data that is provided, and whether that person is properly authorizing its release."

About the Author

Jabulani Leffall is a business consultant and an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in the Financial Times of London, Investor's Business Daily, The Economist and CFO Magazine, among others. He consulted for Deloitte & Touche LLP and was a business and world affairs commentator on ABC and CNN.