Microsoft's Live Labs has launched two security-related web-based services, one for providing authentication and another for connecting P2P (peer-to-peer) applications through network firewalls.

The services are part of Microsoft's plan to quickly deliver web-based services to compete with rivals Google and Yahoo. Microsoft formed Live Labs, its research arm for creating these internet technologies, in January. Microsoft has said many of its Live services will be connected to Windows Vista, the next version of its client OS (operating system), but has not clearly articulated a plan for how that makes the OS more valuable to users.

STS (Security Token Service) is available here, while the new Relay Service is available here.

STS is an online identity-management service that enables users to register personal information on a virtual information card using Microsoft's authentication service, code-named InfoCard. After signing up for STS, when users visit a site that is InfoCard-enabled, they can sign in to the site using information stored in the virtual card, according to Microsoft.

Microsoft envisions InfoCard as a simple and secure authentication technology that will ultimately replace the name- and password-based systems used by most websites today. The company introduced the technology, which will be a part of Windows Vista, at the RSA Conference in February. Many see it as the latest incarnation of Microsoft's Passport service, introduced several years ago as part of the company's plan for users to authenticate themselves across multiple sites on the web, which was never used as widely as Microsoft had hoped.

The Relay Service allows services built using WCF (Windows Communication Foundation) to connect over P2P networks through security devices such as firewalls and NATs (network address translators). WCF is the underlying technology in Windows Vista that allows for different systems to connect and communicate using web services. NATs hide the private addresses of the local network from the public address side attached to the internet.

To allow for applications to communicate via P2P networks now, developers typically write complex custom code, a process that can be time-consuming, according to Microsoft. The Relay Service provides communication infrastructure that eliminates the need to write this code to connect applications between networks that run firewalls or NATs, Microsoft said.

For more information on network security, our sister site Techworld has a comprehensive network security resource page.

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