IBM, Novell and Parity Communications today announced that they are contributing code to an open source initiative — code-named “Project Higgins” — that will spawn a new generation of security software, giving people more control over their personal online identity information. Project Higgins builds upon a concept developed by Harvard Law School´s Berkman Center for Internet & Society.
Project Higgins – which is being managed by the Eclipse open source foundation — is developing software for “user-centric” identity management, an emerging trend in security software. It enables individuals to actively manage and control their online personal information, such as bank account, telephone and credit card numbers, or medical and employment records — rather than institutions managing that information as they do today. People will decide what information they want shared with trusted online websites that use the software.
This is the first user-centric identity management effort to follow the open source software model, where hundreds of thousands of developers contribute — and continually drive improvements through collaborative innovation. Being an open source effort, Higgins will support any computer running Linux, Windows or any operating system, and will support any identity management system.
“To move online security to the next level, there has to be fundamental resolve among consumers, government and business to quickly adopt a system where the individual has more control over how information about them is managed and shared,” said John Clippinger, Senior Fellow for The Berkman Center. “Our aim is to construct an open and widely accessible software framework that puts the individual at the center of the identity management universe. With this framework in place, it will be easier for society to begin the migration to more secure online environments, where trusted networks can not only be easily formed, but effectively enforced. For in the end, security is not just technological, but social.”
Higgins will make it simple and secure for someone to change an address across all their online accounts with a single keystroke; delegate who can see what elements of their medical records; or change a password across online banking and brokerage accounts. For example, a person can grant their insurance company broad access to their personal information and medical records, while at the same time limiting the amount of data made available to their cable company. In turn, businesses can create new channels of communication with customers – enabling information to be shared securely across networks to deliver targeted, relevant products and services.
To spur swift adoption of Higgins by the broadest community of software developers, IBM, Novell and Parity Communications are contributing software code to Higgins, and will be joined by other technology companies who are expected to participate in the project. IBM plans to incorporate Higgins technology within its Tivoli identity management software, with added support by independent software vendors and IBM´s consulting services division.
A new era of online services
Higgins breaks up a person´s identity into pieces — or “services” — and lets computer users dictate who can access what parts of their identity information, within applicable privacy guidelines and laws. Organizations using “smart” applications, built with Higgins open source tools, can share specific identity information, such as their telephone number or buying preferences, according to rules set by the individual, or by an authorized third-party service provider acting on their behalf. Like Web services, companies will be able to build support for Higgins into their applications, websites and services, and its open approach will support any technology platform and identity management system.
The project is named after the Tasmanian long-tailed Higgins mouse. It reflects today´s “long tail” of micro-markets that complement traditional industries — such as new markets revolving around online auctions — and the fact that those markets will benefit from greater online collaboration.
Over the last two years, The Berkman Center has been engaged in developing research papers and use cases on privacy and digital governance.
“The Internet has changed the way consumers think about privacy, and Higgins will help change the way people manage their personal identity information,” said Dale Olds, Distinguished Engineer at Novell. “Ultimately this approach will give consumers greater control and businesses powerful new ways to interact with their customers. We view Higgins as an opportunity to combine Novell´s leadership in identity and security with the power of the open source community to address some of today´s toughest technological and ethical challenges.”
Anthony Nadalin, Distinguished Engineer and Chief Security Architect, IBM, added: “Identity management is the next frontier for open source software. Open source ensures that there is easy access to the technology, so that developers can innovate around it. It also means that customers won´t be locked into a proprietary architecture when they adopt user-centric identity management systems.”