A Canadian entrepreneur is preparing to follow up his success in developing anti-spam software by creating a free identity management network that will authenticate users at Web sites around the world.

Sxip Networks, based in Vancouver, is in the process of trying to sign up “”home sites”” that

enjoy trusted relationships with customers. These will include banks and popular Internet companies such as Google or Microsoft, which will issue to their users a globally unique personal identifier (or gupi). When users proceed to a Web site that asks them to register or sign on in some way, they will use their gupi to send and retrieve their personal information from their home site, which will be delivered over the Sxip Network. The home site would be responsible for the security of the gupi.

Single sign-on promised

The identity management system, which will be based on open source technology, is the brainchild of Dick Hardt, who founded anti-spam vendor ActiveState. Best known for its PureMessage e-mail protection tool, ActiveState was also sold to Sophos in a US$23-million transaction late last year. The elements of Sxip Network (pronounced “”skip””) were in development at ActiveState, but they were not involved in the Sophos deal.

Hardt said Sxip will be able to offer single sign-on capabilities that will streamline e-commerce, help combat identity theft and enhance customer relationships between Web firms and their clients. The profile information stored in a gupi, for example, could include “”reputational”” data that tells one firm that a user has been a good customer at another site. The chicken-and-egg problem, he said, is getting adoption. Those firms that could be home sites want to see a user base, but without home sites there’s little incentive for users to turn to Sxip.

“”We’re trying to light a fire,”” he said. “”It’s trying to get the little pieces of timber to go in one spot. The challenge is getting the first sparks in there, making sure that they catch.””

Identity management has become a hotly-contested market among players that include

Microsoft, which has had trouble ramping up its Passport service, and Sun Microsystems, which lead the creation of the Liberty Alliance. Like Sxip, the Liberty Alliance promises single sign-on and counts among its charter members the Royal Bank of Canada. During a recent visit to Toronto, Sun chief executive Scott McNealy claimed to have already won the identity management market.

“”Even the shouting’s over,”” he said. “”All those battles over standards, WS-Federation — it’s just weeds.””

Hardt said Sxip Networks will operate with a fundamentally different approach than that of the Liberty Alliance. Whereas Liberty involves a more site-centric architecture where the members move a user’s data around, Sxip allows the user to control who the home site is, and where their data goes.

David Senf, who studies the identity management space as an analyst with Toronto-based IDC Canada, said Sxip Networks could be a risky venture.

“”Where the world of ID management is moving is a more distributed model,”” he said. “”Each organization holds onto their customer data and passes on a unique ID. I think that’s the model that should be followed and can be followed . . . I don’t think building out a service that will be based on a centralized choke point can succeed.””

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