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Q&A: VeriSign's Phillip Hallam-Baker on Web services security

By Carol Sliwa
August 30, 2002 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - BOSTON -- IT professionals should wait for the Web Services Security specification to be finalized and implemented before they start building sophisticated Web services that extend beyond their company's firewalls, according to the specification's co-author.
Phillip Hallam-Baker, principal scientist at Mountain View, Calif.-based VeriSign Inc., said it could take between six months and two years to nail down the WS-Security specification that he helped to write. Hallam-Baker spoke with Computerworld's Carol Sliwa about the state of Web services security during this week's XML Web Services One Conference here.
The WS-Security specification was announced in April by IBM, Microsoft Corp. and VeriSign and was turned over to the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS). A technical committee working to advance WS-Security will hold its first face-to-face meeting next week.
Hallam-Baker was also senior author of the XML Key Management Specification (XKMS), and he served as editor of the Security Assertion Markup Language core schema and protocol specification. Here's what he had to say.

Phillip Hallam-Baker, principal scientist at VeriSign Inc.
Phillip Hallam-Baker, principal scientist at VeriSign Inc.
Q: Web services have been talked about for a while now, but clear and concise definitions are tough to come by. How do you define Web services?
Phase 1 of the Web was the human interacting with computer. And that's how we defined it at CERN. All the time we were thinking about human users talking to machines. We did do some work on machine-to-machine, but that was not what HTTP was optimized for.
What Web services are about is machine-to-machine communication. The base technology is XML and XML schema. If we want to narrow it to what types of Web service specifications are you going to be most interested in supporting -- obviously SOAP [Simple Object Access Protocol], WS-Security, XKMS.

Q: You said that users can build basic Web services today. When do you predict they'll be able to develop more sophisticated Web services?
I would look at it saying, first of all, don't look at Web services. Look at functionality. ... Look at the applications that meet that functionality. If there is a standard out there already and it's fine, then use it. If there isn't and you're looking to form some sort of group to build that type of functionality, then the platform to look at is Web services, because it's definitely where you'll get more programmer support, the most platform vendor support and all that great stuff.

Q: What events will need to happen for IT professionals to be able to start thinking about doing more sophisticated Web services that traverse firewalls?

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