Last week I was in San Francisco for the 16th Internet Identity Workshop to disseminate the Linkey project and engage with those in the online identity communities.

The event was sponsored by many big names including Microsoft, Ping Identity, Google, Janrain, Yubico, Cisco, OneID and NetIQ. In attendance were employees from all of the sponsor companies as well as delegates ranging from freelance developers to information compliance officers at big companies to authors of many Internet specifications and protocols such as OpenID, OAuth and SAML. About half of hundred or so delegates had travelled from outside North America including about ten of us from Europe. Surprisingly I was the only delegate representing an educational institution.

The conference itself was un-conference style – i.e. each morning delegates would volunteer sessions which were then slotted into the timetable. A full list of all of the sessions can be found here. The sessions people put forward tended to either be very technical or were higher level, almost philosophical discussions.

Here is a list of sessions I attended (session notes can be found here):

  • T1G: Native Apps – SSO
  • T2B: Strong 2-Factor For All – Google and FIDO Alliance
  • T3C: The OAuth Complicit Flow
  • T4G: Identity Federation: Failed Consumer Experiences and WHat We Can Do About It
  • W1H: OAUTH Client Registration
  • W3B: OAuth 2 Bootstrapping from device to browser (technical)
  • W4B: Google’s Auth goals for the next 5 years
  • Google are strongly committed to OAuth!!!!
  • W5I: OAuth 2 Federation – RS trust external AS
  • TH2E: Practical DATA PROTECTION – Avoidance? EU and US ?
  • TH3A: RESPECT CONNECT “Facebook Connect for Personal Clouds” OR “Social Login that Doesn’t Suck”
  • TH4F: Self-Hosted Personal Clouds (FreedomBox and Raspberry PI)

The two main overarching topics throughout the event were “privacy” and “data ownership”. There were also a number of sessions about security, with one session that I attended by Google about 2-factor authentication resulting in quite heated discussion (namely because the work Google and the FIDO Alliance is not public and there is a high fee for membership).

Another interesting session was called “The OAuth Complicit Flow” (notes here) which had the premise of “what if the an OAuth authorisation server asked you to agree to “allow this application to connect to your account and murder someone” and there was no deny button. The discussion dealt with the issue of some applications asking for too many permissions, users not reading through the approve screens (similar to how users just accept EULA agreements) and applications refusing to let users access them unless they agree to allowing the application share stuff on their Facebook wall, or see the user’s friend list. Potential solutions that came out of this discussion was “reactive” permission requests as opposed to “preemptive” permissions – similar to how some iOS apps don’t ask for permission to send push notifications unless you click a button in the settings for that app.

I got the opportunity to have a chat with Mike Jones from Microsoft who has been leading much of the work on the OAuth 2.0 and OpenID Connect specifications. He answered a few questions I had about edge cases in implementations and he was interested in the PHP libraries I’d developed as part of the project.

I didn’t have the opportunity to talk at length about Linkey but in all the sessions I attended I tried to take part and I had some really interesting discussions with people about some of work that we’re doing in HE around open data and open APIs (including work on OAuth) and I was able to talk about some of the issues we faced with implementing OAuth in enterprise environments (because of incompatibility and lack of understanding compared to SAML).

I feel that the conference was definitely worth attending and I would encourage JISC and other interested parties in the education sectors to try and attend the next Internet Identity Workshop as I left feeling that we’re dealing with some very similar problems that even the very large organisations present such as Oracle are dealing with.