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RSA boosts Keon security line

Betting that digital certificates will be used to secure many applications in the future, RSA Data Security and parent Security Dynamics plan to make it easy for software developers to build their new certificate server into their products.

Betting that digital certificates will be used to secure many applications in the future, RSA Data Security and parent Security Dynamics plan to make it easy for software developers to build their new certificate server, Keon, into their products.

The strategy lets RSA and Security Dynamics play catch-up after their somewhat late arrival to the market. Other vendors have had the tools for issuing digital certificates--known as PKI or public key infrastructure software--for several years.

The companies' direction, signaled with today's news that RSA and Security Dynamics will release the new certificate server next month, follows the high-profile announcement of the Keon line in January.

"RSA has a core base of software developers already using its [encryption algorithms and security toolkits], so it's leveraging that customer base," said Abner Germanow, a security analyst at International Data Corporation.

Security Dynamics' chief business is selling other forms of authentication technology--such as SecurID security tokens and single sign-on software--which is used in large companies so clients can log on with a single password for each database or application.

"Anyone looking at authentication systems [such as Security Dynamics'] today is also looking at PKI, so being able to offer an integrated solution along both of those fronts is very important," Germanow added.

Digital certificates are software credentials to vouch for the identity of a user. They can be stored on a computer's hard drive, a SecurID token, or a smart card, which is a plastic card with a chip embedded.

Today certificates are used primarily for secure email (S/Mime certificates), secure data transfers (SSL or secure sockets layer certificates for Web servers), and virtual private networks or VPNs (IPSec certificates). Internet standards exist for each of those, but the Keon certificate server would let users issue digital IDs for different purposes, too.

Although rivals Entrust Technologies and smaller Xcert offer versions of their technologies to be embedded in other applications, Keon is the first product based primarily on that strategy. The Keon strategy is designed to snare not only commercial software developers but in-house programmers working on corporate applications.

Pricing for the Keon certificate server reflects its "built-in" strategy. Most vendors charge according to the number of certificates issued, with annual renewal fees. Thus VeriSign, an RSA spin-off that licensed its certificate engine to become the Keon certificate server, may charge an individual once for a secure email certificate and again for a VPN certificate.

But the Keon server is priced on a per-user basis, starting at $50 and falling to under $5 for large volumes, with no renewal charges even if more than one kind of certificate is issued.

RSA and Security Dynamics expect to introduce a new version of its single sign-on product, to be called the Keon security server, later this summer.