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Firms hope smart cards make cents

Informix and Gemplus demonstrated "smart card" technology for secure transactions.

As expected, Informix Software and Gemplus today demonstrated the first working prototype of "smart card" technology for secure financial transactions on the Internet.

Both companies, along with Hewlett-Packard, have formed the ImagineCard Alliance. The alliance will pitch Gemplus smart card technology, combined with Informix database software and HP's server and encryption technology, to companies looking to build secure Internet and intranet applications for electronic commerce.

At its annual user conference in Chicago today, Informix demonstrated an application that allows users to log on to a remote system and purchase items electronically with a single smart card bearing a digital signature. The user plugs the card in to a smart-card reader device attached to the PC before logging on. The companies expect to begin commercial sales of the technology later this year.

While the Alliance member companies envision smart card technology becoming ubiquitous for online commerce, few other client-server software vendors are following the same path. Instead, these firms are banking on alternative encryption and security technologies such as digital certificates, a kind of software passport that confirms the identity of the user to the server, and vice-versa.

While many users are loathe to carry around a card that can be lost or damaged, most security experts consider hardware-based solutions like smart cards safer from potential hacking than software-only solutions like digital certificates.

Related stories:
Informix teams up with Netscape, HP
Informix launches Web-enabled database