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Elvis crypto has not left the building

Sun Microsystems says Russian-made encryption software based on Sun technology has slipped its ship date with no revised schedule.

Sun Microsystems (SUNW) said today that Russian-made encryption software based on Sun technology has slipped its ship date with no revised schedule.

Back in May, Sun trumpeted its decision to distribute SKIP E+ encryption software produced by Russian company Elvis Plus. The software is based on Sun's Simple Key Management for IP (SKIP) algorithms, but the company had no direct hand in helping Elvis Plus engineers develop the software. Such help would violate U.S. export laws that have been crafted to give law enforcement officials the ability to intercept and decode electronic messages and other data protected with strong encryption.

Originally due August 15, the software is nowhere to be seen. The product has run into both bureaucratic and technical delays, according to Sun.

"We are cooperating with the Commerce Department and their review, and we're continuing to test the product," a Sun representative said. "There is no projected date to announce shipment of the product."

Critics of the government export rules saw Sun's decision to distribute Elvis Plus as a legal way to circumvent U.S. law and further prove that the rules were ineffective in halting the unregulated spread of strong encryption.

Strong crypto is considered a cornerstone for conducting electronic commerce and secure communications over the Internet, but law enforcement and intelligence-gathering agencies worry that terrorists and other criminals could use such encryption to foil digital wiretaps.

Sun will market Elvis Plus's Secure Virtual Private Network software under the name SunScreen SKIP E+. Customers who buy through Sun will have the product shipped directly to any overseas locations from the Russian firm.

To close loopholes like the one Sun is using, the U.S. government is working to convince other industrial nations to impose similar restrictions on encryption and help create a global key recovery infrastructure. The Clinton administration also has succeeded in promoting Senate legislation that would effectively give law enforcement officials access to U.S. citizens' private encryption keys. The Secure Public Networks Act has not yet reached the Senate floor for a full vote but has made substantial progress since its introduction earlier this summer.

SunScreen SKIP E+ software will support 56-bit DES, two- and three-key triple DES, and 64- and 128-bit ciphers for traffic and key encryption algorithms. There is no key recovery technology built into the product, which means Sun would not be able to export it from the United States at its current strengths.