Home > Articles > Security > General Security and Privacy

Understanding Windows CardSpace: Hints Toward a Solution

This chapter defines the role of CardSpace as the user experience designed for empowering Windows users to be first-class citizens of the Identity Metasystem.
This chapter is from the book

Now that we understand how today's security schemas work and how they evolved to their current state, we realize the reasons why they fall short in providing a common identity layer for the entire Internet. It is time to put into practice the lessons learned and devise a long-term solution, finally immune from the errors and shortcomings that afflict today's patchwork of partial solutions.

The section "A World Without a Center" stresses the reasons why a universal identity layer didn't spontaneously emerge to date and highlights that a truly sustainable solution must address the needs of all the disparate parties that have an interest in the Internet.

The section "The Seven Laws of Identity" describes the choral effort that the industry poured into determining the mandatory requirements that must be met by any acceptable solution to the online identity problem. The seven laws of identities are a compact formulation of those findings.

The section "The Identity Metasystem" presents a model for describing roles, transactions, and relationships of systems in which identity information is exchanged. The section explores the expressive power of the Identity Metasystem and its soundness, describing how its various parts can be composed for handling different example scenarios in ways that are fully respectful of the identity laws.

The section "WS-* Web Services Specifications: The Reification of the Identity Metasystem" provides a brief overview of the advanced web services specifications, positioning the trend in the industry landscape and delving into the details of some especially relevant specifications. After all the pertinent details have been spelled out, the text shows how the abstract constructs in the Identity Metasystem find a concrete counterpart in the web services world. A sustainable solution for the online identification system has finally been found, and the technological means to put it into practice are already mainstream.

The section "Presenting Windows CardSpace" positions Windows CardSpace in the Identity Metasystem, explaining its role and its relationship to the other components of the solution.

By the end of this chapter, you will understand the Identity Metasystem, how it works, why it is the way it is, why it can aspire to be a global solution, and why former attempts fell short. The Identity Metasystem is the ecology in which Windows CardSpace is designed to thrive. Gaining a solid understanding of the model is the best way to learn how to take advantage of this new technology.

A World Without a Center

The fabric that keeps the Internet together is fairly simple from a technical standpoint. You saw in the preceding chapter how the content-publishing infrastructure (browser plus web server plus HyperText Transfer Protocol [HTTP]) proved flexible enough to be twisted in the wide gamut of online applications we see today. You have also seen that security concerns, specifically about identity, are a serious seatback for the activities involving high-value transactions. The technology for addressing those concerns, or at least significantly mitigating them, already exists. We took the time to understand strengths and inadequacies of the main authentication schemes, and it's clear that cryptography and token-based schemas have the potential to provide a technical solution to the problem. In fact, for the most part, the problem is not technical at all.

The reality is that the Internet is just an enabling infrastructure. It is the stage to an incredible number of different dramas, all involving different actors with their own agendas. Every service provider runs his or her interests on the Internet for his or her own reasons, according to his or her own business model and practices; and unpredictable new business models thrive and decline at stunning pace without central supervision or governance of sort. (At the time of this writing, the huge success of twitter.com is baffling old-school analysts.) The concept of identity plays a key role in every service or activity that provides or manipulates value. It should not come as a surprise that every business wants to exercise control over the way in which identity is managed for their assets so that they can ensure that it is inline with their business goals. Different businesses will have different expectations from identity management. An enterprise giving remote access to its employees will want to make sure that access levels are enforced, striking the delicate balance between ease of access and security. The same enterprises, when offering online services to customers, will have a different agenda. Customers will need to be authenticated with the right security assurances, sure, but the highest-order bit will be how to capitalize on relationships, retain customers, achieve loyalty and prevent departures, leverage customer profiles for improving sales or selling info to marketing firms, handle privacy and regulation concerns, keep user-profile data fresh, and many other considerations. Those are all business goals that can deeply affect how customer identity is handled from the technical standpoint; furthermore, any operator will give different weights according to the kind of service they provide. Just think of the use that Amazon.com would make of its user profiles, as opposed to matchmaker businesses such as eHarmony.com. That's not all. As the usage of new technologies rises in government functions and practices (the so-called eGovernment), institutions expose more and more of their operations to online consumption. Their view of identity is influenced by the existing relationship they have with citizens, and the assurances they have to provide must be inline with the official function they are called on to accomplish.

The different ways in which identity is defined, exchanged, and manipulated in a certain transaction defines a context. As mentioned previously, everybody has a strong interest in controlling the identity context in his or her transactions. For that reason, the absence of a constraining standard is exactly what allows businesses to adopt their own solutions. Chapter 1, "The Problem," is full of examples of those identity one-offs. The Internet does not have an identity layer, and this is one of the key reasons behind all the problems we have with authentication today. But if the Internet did have a native identity layer, and it was not expressive enough for allowing businesses to enforce their requirements, it would be reasonable to expect the rise of proprietary alternatives. Back to square one.

The different views on what identity is or what an identity layer should do are the reason why a common solution didn't spontaneously arise, and it is not plausible to expect this to happen anytime soon. Perhaps more important, that is also an indication of what a universal identity layer should look like. It will need to have enough expressive power so that present and future businesses will be able to use it according to their needs; otherwise, it will face the same fate of existing schemes.

Although services providers are a very important part of the equation, they are not the entire story. User acceptance makes for the success or the failure of many online services. Systems have to walk a thin line between ease of use and security assurances offered; context information considerations, such as how private is the data being exchanged at the moment, are powerful influencing factors for pulling opinions on one side or the other of that line. We have seen in Chapter 1, in the sections "Passwords: Ascent and Decline" and "The Babel of Web User Interfaces," how users have trained to cope with inefficient and insecure systems. The consequences of those shortcomings are often felt at moments apparently unrelated to the authentication experience, such as when you spot an unauthorized purchase days after the last home-banking transaction. Hence, the user is not always able to recognize the causal link between aspects of a bad authentication system and the issues it causes. Add this to the difficulty the user has when trying to figure out what is going on during a transaction (such as whether the website rendered in the browser is truly the intended one). This is another facet of the problem that a common identity layer has to solve. It has to offer a user experience that is acceptable, and at the same time it has to protect the user interests without getting in the way.

The Internet does not have a center. This claim can be supported from many points of view: no common governance, many service providers with different agendas, and a mind-boggling number of users who often defy attempts to partition and classify them. All of those entities want a say about how identities are managed, and rightfully so. Any truly sustainable solution must address their concerns. That is the minimum bar for entertaining any hope of a strategic solution to the problem.

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020