EPIC asks FTC to further limit Passport

While applauding the U.S. Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) recent efforts to rein in Microsoft Corp.'s Passport online authentication service, amid complaints of misrepresentation and slack security, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) lobbied the commission to take further actions to limit Passport this week, saying that privacy hazards still remain.

The Washington, D.C.-based civil liberties group sent a letter to the FTC Monday saying that while the consent agreement the commission reached with Microsoft last month would "go far in improving security and privacy" of users' information, it did not go far enough.

The group claims that the single sign-on authentication system has experienced security breaches since the consent agreement was reached and, despite user resistance to online authentication tools, that Microsoft has not been forthright in communicating how it is expanding the service.

The FTC began investigating concerns over Passport's security and privacy over a year ago, following a complaint filed by EPIC. The commission finally reached a consent agreement with the software maker last month, ordering Microsoft to cease misrepresenting the information collected by the service, and bolster its security program. While EPIC lauded the agreement, it urged the FTC this week to further regulate Passport by requiring greater transparency, allowing users access to their entire Passport profile and limiting the functions of the service to guarantee greater security.

EPIC said that because Passport serves as a single key to users' online information, the damage caused by a security breach could be substantial. The group suggested that the FTC limit Passport's functions in order to reduce this risk.

The group also suggests that biannual security assessments mandated by the consent agreement should be made public, and that users should be able to easily view and correct their profiles.

Furthermore, while EPIC originally voiced its concerns about Passport's security and privacy, the group said that the emergence of other online authentication services also bares scrutiny.

America Online Inc. has launched a "Screen Name Service" which tracks users' personal information and the Liberty Alliance has also developed "Project Liberty," an online identification and authentication system, EPIC said. The group asks that both be examined for their security and privacy features, saying they pose the same hazards as Passport does.

While no one from Microsoft was immediately available to comment on EPIC's latest request, the software maker has in the past said that it plans to continue improving Passport's security features.

Speaking on a conference call immediately following the company's agreement with the FTC last month, Microsoft Senior Vice President and General Counsel Brad Smith said that, "We understand the importance of online network security and appreciate that it constantly evolves."

"We've never claimed infallibility and in hindsight we wished we had held ourselves to a higher bar one or two years ago," he added.

Passport's security is also being currently evaluated by the European Commission.

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Scarlet Pruitt

Computerworld
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