Monday, May 03, 2010

Success Chasing a Single Password in Higher Education

I came across this really interesting article about InCommon, Shibboleth and higher-education institutions and how when you mixed them all up you could achieve single sign-on and eliminate passwords. Basically, a number of higher education institutions have gotten together to use federation amongst themselves as a means of sharing information without the need for yet more passwords. So far, there are more than a 150 higher-education institutions federated together.

This is a really good example of successful federation and what can be achieved if you have a common purpose and goal. Obviously a bit easier amongst higher-education institutions but just the same it was a challenge for those involved.
Professors, staff members, and information-technology officials at all sorts of colleges share one vision of utopia: a campus with single sign-on. It's the idea that a person needs only one user name and password combination, or one set of credentials, to access every digital service an institution provides.

But the reality, most often, is that users must keep track of different sets of credentials for different services. For instance, a professor has easy access to an online journal the college subscribes to, but might need different identifying information to get onto a grading system.

A number of institutions, reaching for that utopia, have joined a nonprofit group called InCommon, founded in 2005. It includes more than 150 higher-education institutions and a lesser number of software companies, database providers, and other organizations.

Joining InCommon gives colleges software with a shared standard that allows a secure single sign-on. When outside companies, like library-database providers, comply with that standard, colleges find it easier to work with them.
I think the part that caught my attention was Microsoft’s membership in InCommon and how they were supporting Shibboleth and InCommon in their efforts:
Microsoft just gave some institutions one more reason to join. Although the company has been a member of InCommon for about three years, it is expanding its software applications that work with Shibboleth. By early next year, its Live@edu services, which many colleges use for e-mail and other programs, will be compatible. (Google Apps for Education, a rival e-mail service, is not available through InCommon.)
You should check out InCommon’s web site if you have a chance. They are definitely doing good work there.

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