MS opens Wallet service; bolsters Passport security

ITworld.com –

Microsoft Corp. put the focus on its Web services Tuesday, unveiling the MSN Wallet online shopping service while at the same time bolstering the security and privacy features of its .Net Passport single sign-on authentication system.

MSN Wallet, which is rolling out as a free MSN service, stores users' payment and address information to expedite their online shopping, allowing them to make purchases without having to retype information.

With the introduction of the new service, Microsoft said that it was discontinuing its similar Passport Express Purchase, which will expire in March of 2003. That service functioned as part of Passport, but the company is now keeping the online shopping and sign-on services separate.

Part of this move is an effort by the Redmond, Washington, company to enhance the security of its Web services. In recent days, Microsoft began informing users that it was making key security and privacy changes to .Net Passport. In some of the most significant changes, the company is ensuring that new accounts be created with a valid e-mail address, resolving concerns over users creating accounts using bogus addresses. Once a user creates a new account, they will now receive an e-mail with links that they must access to validate the account.

Other changes to Passport include moving the .Net Passport user interface to another domain name, passport.net, to prevent a potential vulnerability in the user interface pages that would allow access of the cookies to be used for Passport authentication. Also, Microsoft said that it has made it easier for Kids Passport accounts to be turned into regular .Net Passport accounts for customers who have signed up for kids accounts by error.

Microsoft also said that it was resolving another common user issue: that it was difficult to close a Passport account. Instead of having to call customer support and go through a manual process, Passport users will be able close their accounts via a member services page at http://memberservices.passport.net, the company said.

The changes come less than a month after Microsoft settled with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over complaints that it misrepresented the privacy and security of Passport.

While addressing some security concerns related to its authentication service, the company also moved to assure users of the security of MSN Wallet, which encrypts customer information and stores it in databases on servers located in access-controlled facilities, Microsoft said.

The shopping service will debut on the Ritz Interactive family of Web sites, including photography sites RitzCamera.com and WolfCamera.com, Microsoft said, with more than a dozen other e-tailers adopting the service in coming months. Users can sign up for a MSN Wallet account at http://wallet.msn.com/ using a Passport account.

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