Two things cause me most continuous hassle with a computer – spam and passwords. In a nutshell I want none of the former and one of the latter. Is that too much to hope for? A couple of reports out today make particularly interesting reading and give me some cause for optimism.

Congratulations to Michael Pollitt for his On the trail of the spammer, in Technology Guardian for tracking down BonSilver, Berk and Exploy, who've been raiding website guest books round the world to fill inboxes (including mine) with thousands of messages about pharmacy products. It hadn't dawned on me that that they had a business model and it was based on a payment per click-through system!

The other report in MIT's Technology Review is about authentication systems. This may sound boring and technical but has enormous significance. I've a particular reason for being interested in this. The WEA Community Grid for Learning, through some pioneering work by our lead e-learning developer, Maria Toro and Gary Herman is now developing a partnership model for extending the use of its online learning materials at http://www.learners.org.uk/ Three library authorities are already signed up. Using a Content Management System, we are offering an own label or customised CGfL website to libraries, schools and learning centres, which they can manage themselves and use to track the progress of their learners.

We want to offer also access to other resources and restricted materials, which can be made available to WEA students via JISC services. The rub is that they are password protected. At present this would require a learner to remember not one but two passwords. JISC has been helping to develop Shibboleth, a new authentication  procedure which enables System 1 to interrogate System 2 and have verified the authenticity of a potential user, whilst maintaining the anonymity of that user. This has great potential.

The MIT article on Universal Authentication suggests that this is one of the top 10 emerging technologies. It quotes Scott Cantor, a senior systems developer at Ohio State University who led the development of Shibboleth, as wanting to extend its reach to a wider web system, "allowing users to hop securely from one site to another after signing on just once".  I'll certainly buy that.

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