openid trust model

Now that I’m starting to see it in practice with new version of WordPress, I’m a bit confused about the trust model of OpenID.  Especially OpenID implemented where any old OpenID server is accepted.

For instance, here on Ed’s blog reporting the unfortunate demise of lcsh.info, you need to be ‘logged in’ to post a comment. One way to log in is to use an OpenID server, any old OpenID server. I happened to remember that this very blog on wordpress.com can now function as an OpenID server. So I enter “https://bibwild.wordpress.com” into the OpenID box.

I’m then redirected to a page from wordpress.com that informs me that lcsh.info has asked for identity information, and asks me if I’m willing for that identity information to be shared with lcsh.info.  So far so good. But here’s the kicker, it then lets me enter whatever information I want for my realname/email to be shared with lcsh.info. I can enter anything I want, and the OpenID server at wordpress.com will dutifully share that identity information with lcsh.info.

How is this identity information any more reliable in any way than if the lcsh.info blog just had me enter my info from the start?

I guess wordpress.com’s implementation that let’s you enter arbitrary identity information is a useful reminder that this kind of OpenID use doesn’t in fact give you any more reliable identity.

Although I guess it does do a few things. It does give me a ‘single sign-on’, where I can get an ‘account’ on foreign servers without having to remember yet another password.  Although I’m not too interested in that for random blogs I have no need to have a persistent account on. I guess also, once I’ve set up the openID connection and told my wordpress.com OpenID provider that it’s free to share info with a foreign site, it keeps me from having to type in my name/email/website over and over again to leave subsequent comments on the site. Although cookies and firefox auto-complete have always served me fine there, I guess it’s a slight convenience to have this information ‘saved’ accross my different machines and web browsers.

And, I guess as far as trust, if the foreign blog where I leave a comment (in this case lcsh.info) records that my identity was confirmed by the OpenID server at https://bibwild.wordpress.com, then it says that the owner of https://bibwild.wordpress.com authorized the commenter to identify him or herself as… whatever arbitrary thing they typed in. I guess that is some kind of additional information useful to determining trust.

So I guess it does provide something. But I have a feeling that some people who don’t think this through are going to think OpenID used in this way is providing more than it really is.

[ An OpenID-consuming service which restricted users to using only certain OpenID identity servers, which were trusted by the service, that would be providing some level of trust.]

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4 Responses to openid trust model

  1. Dan Brickley says:

    Yup, OpenID is just the start of something interesting here.

    It lets you link your online actions to long-lived or transitory accounts. In this case, by posting from an OpenID that is your blog, a fairly simple check gives interesting metadata:

    ./page_rank.pl https://bibwild.wordpress.com
    5

    This used the Perl module for checking google pagerank. Using pagerank alone would be regretable; but it is one of several datasources available.

    Here is the Google Social Graph API results:

    http://socialgraph-resources.googlecode.com/svn/trunk/samples/findyours.html?q=http%3A%2F%2Fbibwild.wordpress.com

    They seem to think you’re Ian Davis. I guess you’re not. Oopsie.

    Garlik’s QDos doesn’t find anything either –
    http://foaf.qdos.com/find/?q=http%3A%2F%2Fbibwild.wordpress.com&goround=true

    Sindice finds a few hits but I’m unsure how to interpret them. Perhaps they could be taken as evidence that you’ve previously made posts that were accepted past human spam filters.
    http://sindice.com/search?q=http%3A%2F%2Fbibwild.wordpress.com&qt=term

    Other possible ingredients might include evidence that you’ve posted successfully to wikis from this OpenID, or that people list it (or linked accounts) in their buddylists (via FOAF, XFN etc.).

  2. jrochkind says:

    Aha, https://bibwild.wordpress.com is MY identifier (my openID), regardless of what name/email I supply, it verifies that I am https://bibwild.wordpress.com. It’s still up to the observer to figure out who https://bibwild.wordpress.com is. Interesting.

    I was getting confused thinking that an OpenID provider URI represented an ‘identity service’ possibly including many identities, when an OpenURI actually represents a particular identity. Yeah?

  3. jrochkind says:

    Although thinking yet more about this, I’m again even more confused/skeptical.

    The only way OpenID can work like Dan describes, to tie all my various actions to a single identity—is if the viewer can _trust_ that everyone identifying themselves as an OpenID URI really is authorized to do that. But there’s no method for a _third party observer_ to verify that built into OpenID. Ed’s blog verifies that I’m authorized to use the OpenID before allowing me to do so, sure. But as a third party observer, I’ve got to just trust that Ed’s blog does that. If I’m using things like google pagerank to get aggregate data about every place an OpenID URI has been used—I’ve just got to trust that the owners of ALL of those places appropriately verified OpenID use.

    I’m still confused about the trust model going on here.

  4. Dan Brickley says:

    Multiply the amount you trust my blog/wiki to be sensibly configured, by the “isn’t a spammer” rating implicit in whatever data you find about it in my blog.

    If you think I’ve probably done no checks, anything I say gets a zero. If you think I run a paranoid, battlehardened anti-spam site, then if I republish a user comment, chances are that it checks out as from a human.

    I’m not proposing a precise algorithm here, just suggesting we’ll start to see this kind of evidence-oriented calculation emerge…

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