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Security is important for any distributed computing environment. But, security is becoming even more important for Web services due to the following reasons:
Currently, the most common security scheme available for today's Web services is SSL (Secure Socket Layer), which is typically used with HTTP. Despite its popularity, SSL has some limitations when it comes to Web services. Thus, various XML-based security initiatives are in the works to address Web services' unique needs. This article examines those schemes.
First, SSL is designed to provide point-to-point security, which falls short for Web services because we need end-to-end security, where multiple intermediary nodes could exist between the two endpoints. In a typical Web services environment where XML-based business documents rout through multiple intermediary nodes, it proves difficult for those intermediary nodes to participate in security operations in an integrated fashion.
Second, SSL secures communication at transport level rather than at message level. As a result, messages are protected only while in transit on the wire. For example, sensitive data on your hard disk drive is not generally protected unless you apply a proprietary encryption technology.
Third, HTTPS in its current form does not support nonrepudiation well. Nonrepudiation is critical for business Web services and, for that matter, any business transaction. What is nonrepudiation? Nonrepudiation means that a communicating partner can prove that the other party has performed a particular transaction. For example, if E-Trade received a stock transaction order from one of its clients and performed the transaction on behalf of that client, E-Trade wants to ensure it can prove it completed that transaction to an arbitration committee, for example, if a dispute arises. We need some level of nonrepudiation for Web services-based transactions.