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AOL backs single-ID system for website logins

By Simon Aughton

Posted on 20 Feb 2007 at 11:06

AOL has announced support for OpenID, a decentralised Internet identifications system that lets users log on to supporting websites using a identifier.

Rather then relying on the traditional username and password method for identification, an OpenID can be any unique Internet identifier such as a website address or blog. AOL, for instance, has enabled basic OpenID 1.1 in beta on its blogging platform, so every beta blog URL is also a basic OpenID identifier, although its does not stop there.

Every AOL and AIM user has automatically been allocated an ID in the form http://openid.aol.com/screenname. In addition, you can point at the AOL OpenID service from any Web page you own in order to turn its URL into an OpenID by inserting two lines of code between the HEAD tags.

Sites that support Open ID display a single box in which the identifying URL is entered; it does not matter if the site has not been visited before as the login is no longer stored there. The website then redirects the user to their OpenID provider where they enter their password before being sent back to the original site.

While OpenIDs should prove a much easier way to log on to sites that require identification, it does have limits. It does not provide authentication, so it is not meant to be used for the likes of e-commerce and banking, although OpenID providers are free to implement their own authentication systems secure enough for financial transactions. Whether these would ever be supported by banks and ecommerce sites is questionable.

As a result of AOL's support, the system now has an additional 63 million users, which, along with Microsoft's recent backing for the technology, should go some way to establishing it as a de facto standard for identifying Net users.

Wikipedia and Firefox have also said that they are working on implementation. There is also unofficial, third-party support for Yahoo!. The OpenID project provides a list of OpenID providers, which store your ID and password.

Microsoft announced earlier this month that it planned to support the forthcoming OpenID 2.0 specification within Windows CardSpace, a component of Vista for securely storing digital identities.

For more information about OpenID go to openid.net.

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