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Netscape gets encryption OK

Versions of the Communicator client and SuiteSpot server are the latest software with 56-bit encryption to receive federal approval for export.

Netscape Communications (NSCP) is the latest vendor to receive federal approval to begin exporting products that use stronger encryption.

The company said the Commerce Department has given it the go-ahead to export versions of its Communicator client and SuiteSpot server software featuring 56-bit encryption. The approval will likely pave the way for Netscape to incorporate even stronger 128-bit encryption in its products, company hopes.

According to Netscape and other companies, U.S. restrictions on exporting strong encryption are hurting their ability to sell products overseas. The company's international revenues were down four percent this quarter from the previous quarter, a decline company executives partly attribute to the government's policy of limiting exported products to 40-bit encryption.

The government's restrictions on encryption are meant to prevent terrorists and other criminals from scrambling messages so that they cannot be deciphered by powerful computers.

"You would not believe how much demand we have from international folks for stronger crypto in our products," Taher Elgamal, chief scientist at Netscape, said today. "For some folks, it's very difficult to accept that you are not getting the full security in the product."

Netscape joins a host of other companies that have received approval to export 56-bit products, provided that the products eventually support a key recovery system. Key recovery will allow the government access to communications by obtaining a key through court order.

V-One, Digital Equipment, IBM, Cylink, and Trusted Information Systems have all received government licenses to add 56-bit encryption to their products.

The 56-bit capabilities will be in Netscape's software within the next few months, Netscape's Elgamal said. He said Netscape would incorporate a key recovery system within the next 2 years as part of its plan to support 128-bit encryption.