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Demonstrating XML security

How it can work -- specifications.

My last 2 tips have dealt with XML security topics, ranging from a general overview of related XML specifications...

and standards to a discussion of what tools and APIs exist to support their use in real-world implementations. This time, I'd like to dive a bit deeper into a single key aspect of security -- namely, authentication and access controls -- that motivates the development and adoption of the Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) specification.

The interesting thing about the demonstration of SAML was that when it occurred at the Burton Group's Catalyst Conference the week of July 15, 2002, it involved working products from a dozen vendors, all of whose SAML 1.0-conformant products were shown to interoperate with one another. The list of participants included some big names in systems and networking: IBM, Novell, Oblix, Sun Microsystems Inc., Baltimore Technologies, CrossLogix, Entegrity Solutions, ePeople, Overxeer, Netegrity, RSA Security, and Sigaba.

Because SAML is designed to enable the exchange of authentication (information about user identity) and authorization (permissions to access requested resources, access control lists, and the like) information between disparate Web access management and security products, this is a convincing indication that the technology is not only feasible, but ready for prime-time use for those developers who have adopted two or more of the various products involved. Because single login and shared authentication has been something of a Holy Grail in distributed networking, this capability may be more significant than it initially appears.

A closer look at the types of products involved also clearly demonstrates the power of such an approach. Users logged into a general directory service for authentication, and were then able to access Web resources, security products, and Web services on numerous other Web sites by carrying a SAML security profile with them from site to site. For developers seeking to integrate subsystems and services from multiple vendors into a single, coherent and secure Web services environment, widespread industry adoption of SAML (which Microsoft also intends to support) could spell relief in a big way.

For more information on this fascinating topic and the interoperability demonstration it provoked, please consult any or all of the following resources:

Ed Tittel is a principal at LANWrights, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of LANWrights offers training, writing, and consulting services on Internet, networking, and Web topics (including XML and XHTML), plus various IT certifications (Microsoft, Sun/Java, and Prosoft/CIW).

This was last published in September 2002

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