Windows CardSpace anyone?

June 20, 2008


I was at a presentation about Windows CardSpace a couple of days ago. Beautiful technology it might be, but I cannot help questioning the adoption of CardSpace in the real world. I cannot say I have ever come across any site that supports it. Have you? (If so, please let me know). On the other hand, OpenId seems to get quite a bit of momentum being supported by some of the big Internet companies out there (Yahoo!, Google, AOL to name a few).

OK, CardSpace and OpenId do not offer exactly the same solution, and are in some respects not comparable. Biggest difference would be OpenId’s reliance of passwords as authentication mechanism (which is one of the reasons for its lack of phishing attack protection), while CardSpace solves this problem using cryptography. However, there are a lot of similarities:

  • Both offer a distributed model that accepts various Identity providers (the user can choose from a number of IdPs)
  • Both address the challenge with maintaining several user account/password for different Internet services

“OpenId is no good because it isn’t secure”

When asking the presenter about the adoption of CardSpace versus the adoption of OpenId, this was his response. I think that this is a gross oversimplification that serves no other purpose than spreading FUD about security.

First of all, if OpenId is good enough for Yahoo! and the like, it will probably be good enough for 80% of the Internet sites out there. I can think of a lot more sites out there that require “less security” than Yahoo! out there, than sites that require a higher security level.

Secondly, security is not binary (secure – not secure). There are different levels of security. Saying that one solution is secure and another one isn’t, is being ignorant towards the field of security. Basically, security (as everything else) come at a cost. In the case of CardSpace, the cost is maintenance of your cards and the corresponding public/private key infrastructure. I do not know CardSpace in detail, but a main challenge here I suspect will be exactly the same as for other public/private key based solutions: how do you bring your keys with you? For instance, if you created a card in a CardSpace on your workstation at work, how do you bring them with you when you want to log in from your home computer or from an Internet café? Having them on a USB stick would probably be a choice, but even that limits the usage quite a lot. Passwords, on the other hand, you carry with you in your head (at least, that’s the idea ;)).

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Written by Vidar Kongsli who is a software professional living in Oslo, Norway. Works as a consultant, system architect and developer at Bredvid. You should follow him on Twitter