*Editor’s note: A shorter version of this article appears in the ebizQ Buyer’s Guide.
There is a famous cartoon by Peter Steiner, first published in the July 5, 1993 issue of The New Yorker. It shows two dogs, one sitting in front of a computer and confiding to his friend on the floor that "On the Internet, Nobody Knows You're a Dog". Indeed. Most people who use the Internet have now become aware that identity management is a problem—sometimes the hard way, after having their identity “stolen”. It can be very hard to prove to a bank that charges made in the normal way against a plastic card you still have in your wallet were actually made by someone else.
This image has been purchased for the ebizQ Buyer's Guide (September 2005 issue) with
permission from http:www.cartoonbank.com
Identity management is just part of the picture, though. There are even deeper problems, related to authorization. Even once you have proved to a system that you are who you say you are, how does that system know what you are entitled to do: what privileges you have? This is a thorny problem, since those privileges are not static but dynamic, typically relating to the particular process instances you happen to be engaged in at the time, which may themselves span multiple organizations. Academics across the globe are struggling with a way to handle this problem—yet any organization wishing to engage in true interactive collaboration with customers, suppliers and partners needs to solve it right now. We are told that the world is “flat”, and that everyone must open up their systems if they are to stay ahead of the marketplace. Yet we are not told how to do it safely.
The safeguarding of access to confidential commercial systems is a headache of such proportions that, the more you think about it, the less you want to think about it. The problem is not related specifically to IT, of course—nor would we wish to claim that it is even solely to do with processes. Security by nature is a multi-faceted issue, with aspects that range from highly technical questions of cryptography through to ensuring that, when entering a building, people do not hold the door open for the stranger walking behind them.
We do not propose to address every aspect of security here. In this article we look at the problem of authorization from a process perspective, identify its root causes, and propose a solution via the emerging discipline of Human Interaction Management. We will show how the use of Roles as the foundation for process definition offers a way forward for determining who should be able to access what, and describe a practical means of implementing a corresponding security mechanism.