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Litronic bundles card reader, digital ID

In what is apparently the first such pairing, Litronic will bundle a VeriSign digital certificate with its NetSign smart-card reader/writer.

Litronic said today it will bundle a VeriSign digital certificate with its NetSign smart-card reader/writer, apparently the first such pairing.

Litronic's announcement links two technologies, both still somewhat obscure in the United States, that many regard as crucial for Internet commerce and security.

Digital certificates, also called digital IDs, vouch for the identity of a person or Web site where two parties cannot see each other. Based on public key cryptography, they serve as an identity card for applications such as secure email, Internet purchases, or access to sensitive data on a network.

Smart cards are credit card-sized plastic cards with an embedded computer chip that can store or process limited amounts of data. Many security specialists see smart cards as a logical storage device for digital IDs because they can be transported by a user for use in multiple machines. They also can be used for electronic cash, physical access to buildings, and loyalty programs

Forrester Research thinks security and loyalty programs, such as airline frequent flyer programs, will create a market for smart cards, but analyst Karen Epper doesn't see the market taking off quickly.

"This is just one step along the way," she said of the Litronic-VeriSign announcement. "So far this market has a lot of positive but evolving happenings--there's no big boom in smart cards."

Litronic's NetSign includes a smart card reader, a smart card, and the relevant software. With the new VeriSign bundle, NetSign purchases can download a "class 1" VeriSign digital certificate, valued at $9.95 retail, from Litronic's Web site.

The Litronic product fully integrates with Netscape Communications' secure email (S/MIME) software and works with Netscape's secure transport, authentication and authorization (SSL), and object-signing.