December 16, 1996 10 AM ET

Major backers set for digital certificates
By Michael Moeller

  VeriSign Inc. has secured the backing of a broad cross-section of companies that are poised to push digital certificate technology into the mainstream next year.

VeriSign's supporters -- which have also made equity stakes in the Mountain View, Calif., developer--range from Cisco Systems Inc. to AT&T Corp. to Merrill Lynch & Co. Their common goal is to provide a wide-reaching infrastructure for conducting secure electronic transactions.

"This is going to be huge, because we are going to be able to look at digital certificates as a single way for providing access to applications, to accounts and to historical data," said Richard Greener, IS director for a large financial institution in New York. "They remove the need for a user to enter in a half-dozen passwords."

Cisco's investment in VeriSign is tied to a bigger announcement, expected within the next month, to provide companies with a total package for working together over the Internet, sources close to the San Jose, Calif., networking vendor said.

Cisco's security framework will integrate VeriSign's digital certificate technology with current and new products. At the announcement, Cisco will outline plans for certificate-issuing technologies and digital certificate integration, sources said. Cisco officials declined to comment.

AT&T is exploring how VeriSign's digital certificate technology could be used with its EasyCommerce systems for deploying enterprise-scale commerce efforts or with embedding them into a universal credit card.

"Digital certificates are really a way for giving a digital identification and a digital identity to users," said Neal Douglas, a general partner at AT&T Ventures, a division of AT&T, in Menlo Park, Calif.

Other deals could impact companies and consumers. Gemplus, for example, plans to integrate VeriSign's digital certificate into its smart cards (see related story), creating a strong security model, sources said. Gemplus officials, in Marseilles, France, were unavailable for comment.

"Putting digital certificates in smart cards simply ups the ante in terms of security," said Karen Epper, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc., in Cambridge, Mass.

On the consumer side, Merrill Lynch and Intuit Inc. are working to use digital certificate technologies with their online financial systems, while Comcast Corp. is looking at using the technology for authenticating and adding nonrepudiation capabilities for online brokerage and home shopping systems over the Internet, sources said.

Merrill Lynch, Intuit and Comcast officials were unavailable for comment.

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