Hoping to help kick Net commerce into full swing, an industry organization is working behind the scenes on guidelines to ensure that various security systems work together.
CommerceNet--a 140-plus member consortium that includes Netscape Communications and the U.S. Postal Service--is currently developing an architecture called E-Co System (Electronic Commerce System). The system will define rules for allowing digital certificate products from different companies to work smoothly with one another, said Jay M. Tenenbaum, chairman of CommerceNet.
The first piece of the architecture, the Joint Electronic Payments Initiative, was announced last April and was intended to improve interoperability between various secure payment protocols.
Considered crucial for electronic commerce, digital certificates are a form of electronic passport that let users prove their identity to merchants over the Net, reducing the potential for credit card and other types of fraud. Companies such as Netscape and Microsoft plan to offer servers for issuing certificates while others, including VeriSign, already have established public certificate-issuing authorities, but there's no agreement on how certificates from different vendors should work together.
"At the moment, there's very little interoperability at the technical or policy level," Tenenbaum said.
Through E-Co System, a draft version of which should be available by the end of the summer, CommerceNet hopes to improve interoperability between certificates, which could boost the security of a number of applications besides payment systems, including electronic data interchange (EDI) and real-time conferencing.
"I'm expecting that E-Co System will provide a foundation for an open Internet marketplace," Tenenbaum said. "So many people are trying to develop closed marketplaces. That's fine, but it doesn't go nearly far enough."