Authenticating the net means taking a Liberty

Some of the world’s biggest industrial and technology companies have signed up to a major new project to establish a framework for secure access to the internet.

There are more than 30 founders of the Liberty Alliance project, which include Sun Microsystems, General Motors, American Airlines, Sony, Bank of America, Nokia and Vodafone. Between them, the companies involved account for around one billion individual identities spread across their customers, business partners and employees.

Liberty aims to create a decentralised system based on open standards for authorising and authenticating access to the internet from a wide variety of sources.

These range from standard desktop PCs to televisions, mobile phones and in-car systems.

The Liberty consortium has set itself three key objectives: to allow consumers and businesses to store information securely; to give users a single sign-on which they need only activate once to have access to a wide range of services; and to provide network service providers with a reliable way of authenticating access from any device.

The founding partners hope to finalise an agreement on the organisation of Liberty and the joint development of intellectual property by the end of November.

A working group will then attempt to identify the specific technologies needed to achieve its objectives, and will consult with government agencies and privacy groups as part of the development process.

Ralph Szygenda, chief information officer at General Motors, said: ‘Secure information management and interoperability across the internet are vital issues to GM as we use digital technologies to reinvent relationships with customers, employees and business partners.’

Szygenda said Liberty was a ‘progressive, innovative alliance that makes sense for GM’.

Sun Microsystems claimed that digital identity would be the ‘defining issue’ of the networked economy.

‘This alliance recognises that legitimate consumer concerns must by addressed from both a policy and technology perspective,’ said Sun vice-president Piper Cole.

Sun said it hopes to launch its own Liberty-enabled products once the standard is established.

If the development of Liberty is successful, it would become a significant rival to Microsoft’s existing Passport authentication service. The founders of Liberty claimed that technology to verify identity and authenticity was too fundamental to the success of the internet to be controlled by any single player.