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Web services! Chances are you've already developed some Web services yourself, or at the very least have heard something about them. While people have put forth numerous Web services definitions, the vision remains the same: interconnect everything from your handheld device and your PC to that big black box in that cold room over there. Indeed, a Web service world could prove more egalitarian in that the distinction between clients and servers blurs. Anyone can be a server or a client—it's just a matter of who possesses something and who wants something.
Call me paranoid, but my first question when I learned about the Web services vision was: "How do they secure this thing?" In a Web services world, everyone communicates with everyone else. Many intermediaries could exist between, say, your supplier, you, and your buyer. What if one of these intermediaries becomes compromised? The communication path then proves only as secure as the least secure hop along the way. End-to-end security becomes vitally important if you want to do something more significant than those five-minute, 10-lines-of-code Hello World services in the tutorials. And the security questions don't stop there: What about authentication? Trust? Authorization?
Microsoft, IBM, and VeriSign have introduced specifications to answer questions ranging from privacy to trust to federation. Underlying these higher-level specifications resides WS-Security (Web Services Security), which describes enhancements to SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) messaging to include message integrity and message confidentiality. These two basic features, in turn, stem from the topic of this two-part series: XML Encryption and XML Signature.
Read the whole series on XML security, "Yes, You Can Secure Your Web Services Documents:"
Note: You can download this article's source code from Resources.
Standards like SSL/TLS (Secure Socket Layer/Transport Level Security) for point-to-point security already exist. S/MIME (Secure/Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions) and PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) ensure that only a message's intended recipient can read that message—thereby achieving end-to-end security. Considering that, what gap does XML Encryption fill?
It turns out that (fortunately) the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) XML Encryption Working Group did have good reasons for XML Encryption. XML Encryption addresses two requirements that none of the above standards can satisfy together: end-to-end security and selective encryption.
If you've ever worked in the payment domain, you no doubt have noticed that the big players never feel satisfied with SSL/TLS. They keep coming up with these so-called secure payment specifications, from SET (Secure Electronic Transaction), which didn't take off, to the newer ones like Visa's 3D Secure and MasterCard's SPA-UCAF (Secure Payment Application/Universal Cardholder Authentication Field).