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Vendors jostling over XML security specs

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It's a bit like the presidential election, but only within the software industry: Two camps are promoting their own security specification for XML as a winner, while the public really just wants one that works when it's put to a real-world test.

On one side, Netegrity last week joined with Sun, WebMethods, VeriSign, Art Technology Group, Commerce One and others to back a specification they call the Security Services Markup Language (S2ML). The specification, which is expected to be unveiled next month, is XML-based technology that's supposed to be used in software applications to capture and share authentication and authorization information. Its envisioned use is in complex supply-chain environments and trading exchanges to simplify user authorization.

However, a second camp led by Securant is pushing a similar specification called AuthXML. Its supporters include Check Point Software Technologies, SilverStream and others. Entrust, iPlanet, Oracle, IBM and others are evaluating the specification, according to Securant.

Like some Florida voters who apparently punched more than one hole in their ballot, a few of the S2ML backers are also AuthXML enthusiasts, including WebMethods and VeriSign.

Companies interested in an XML-based security specification say they hope the two camps somehow manage to combine these nascent efforts into one winning technology that would provide the equivalent of single sign-on for e-commerce purchasing.

"We're a strong proponent of open standards, and we'd like to see a single spec," says Chris Haddad, an engineer at Employease, an Atlanta company that provides a hosted application used by more than 1,000 companies to purchase business services.

"We don't want to see this XML single sign-on go the way of PKI," he adds, referring to the fact that public-key infrastructure vendors failed to achieve interoperability in their digital-signature products after squabbling over technology.

Securant's principle technological evangelist Darren Platt contends that both XML security camps "identified the need at the same time. ... It was a bit of a surprise" to hear about the Netegrity-led effort last week because Securant met last month in San Jose with a dozen software vendors, including Netegrity, to discuss its XML security specification, he said.

Whether the two camps can get together remains up in the air, but like Netegrity with S2ML, Securant plans to make its technology publicly available. "Our goal is a single industry standard," Platt says.

Backers of S2ML say they expect to submit their technology as a proposed standard to the World Wide Web Consortium and the organization called Oasis, which works on XML technical and business issues.

RELATED LINKS

Contact Senior Editor Ellen Messmer

Other recent articles by Messmer

ebXML Web site
Includes information about e-commerce using XML.

Software vendors planning XML-based security spec
Network World Fusion, 11/15/00.

XML working group
The W3C's XML page, chock full of resources about the markup language.

XML news
The latest news from Network World and around the 'Net.

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