RealTime IT News

Anonymous IBM

Anonymizers have built up a strong following due to a flurry of identity-theft cases that have plagued the industry. IBM's Tivoli group is throwing its hat into the anonymizer ring.

Identity Mixer is a piece of software that allows people to hide their personal information on the Web to protect them from ID theft and other foul play.

Called Idemix for short, the software was written by researchers at IBM's laboratory in Zurich, Switzerland, to let consumers purchase products and services online while keeping their personal information safe.

When consumers enter personal details in an e-commerce storefront in exchange for a product or service, they leave behind a data footprint revealing the size, frequency and source of their online purchases.

Idemix uses artificial identity information, known as pseudonyms, to eliminate the digital tracks, making online transactions anonymous so real identity information can never be intercepted or exposed. Specifically, the software lets people make purchases without revealing their credit card numbers, or their home addresses.

Idemix users get an anonymous digital credential, or voucher, from a trusted third party, such as a bank. The bank provides a credential that includes a credit card number and expiration date.

When an online purchase is made, the Idemix software digitally seals the information by transforming the credential so the user can send it to the online vendor. A new encrypted credential is used for subsequent purchases.

The announcement comes ahead of the RSA Conference in San Francisco where companies such as Microsoft will announce their own security plans.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates and other officials are expected to discuss the company's CardSpace ID management software and other security products during a keynote on Feb. 6.

IBM said Idemix will form a new privacy layer for the Eclipse Higgins project, an open source movement to create ID management software and an alternative to Microsoft's CardSpace.

Nataraj Nagaratnam, chief architect of identity management for IBM Tivoli, said Idemix could make the Higgins software a more palatable, if not potent alternative to CardSpace because it puts the control of personal information into the hands of the users instead of the organizations' the user is conducting business with.

The "do-it-yourself" privacy represents a reversal of current trends, where banks, e-commerce shops and other companies are responsible for masking their customers' identity.

But savvy Web users, as evidenced by the growing number of Web breaches in the last few years, are easily able to break through a business or service provider's computer defenses.

IBM believes Idemix's user-centric approach will ultimately provide more reliable security for consumers; individuals can control who has access to their online personal information, rather than having companies manage that information as they do today.

When Idemix is ready, IBM plans to add the software to the federated identity management software in its Tivoli line.