A Canadian entrepreneur is preparing to follow up his success in developing anti-spam software by creating a free identity management network that would 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 would include banks and popular Internet companies like Google or Microsoft, who would 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 would use their gupi to send and retrieve their personal information from their home site, which would be delivered over the Sxip Network. The home site would be responsible for the security of the gupi.
The identity management system, which would 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 to the creation of the Liberty Alliance. Like Sxip, the Liberty Alliance promises single sign-on and boasts many large organizations, including the Royal Bank of Canada, as charter members. 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. Our guys are all over that.””
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.
“”(The Liberty Alliance) is a web or circle of trust. There are some real issues there, because everybody has to trust everybody else,”” he said. “”Trust doesn’t scale well.””
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 a centralized choke point can succeed.””
Hardt said he was confident users would embrace a service that put them in charge of their data. He said he has already gotten interest from organizations around the world, including Europe and South America. Through Sxip Networks will be free to use apart from network use fees for the home sites, he plans to make money through a spin-off, Sxip Blu, that will sell tools to enable connections to the network. Sxip Blu will be rolling out products within the first and second quarters of next year.