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Netscape updates directory, security

The company targets e-commerce customers with a bundle that includes improved digital-certificate software.

Netscape today announced new versions of its directory server and security software, targeting customers conducting Internet commerce with a special bundle that includes a beefed-up system for issuing digital certificates.

Netscape's announcement comes on the first day of the RSA Data Security conference in San Jose, California, where digital IDs and public key infrastructure [PKI] software are hot topics. More than a dozen companies are slated to make PKI-related announcements during the four-day show.

Netscape, whose acquisition by America Online is pending, is positioning its new Netscape Directory for Secure E-Commerce bundle for mainstream customers, not the early adopters now active on the Internet.

The new bundle has three components: a new version of Netscape's directory server, an upgraded certificate server for issuing digital certificates, and Netscape Meta-Directory, a new product built on source code licensed from Isocor.

Directory servers operate as a central repository for passwords and user names that control which users can view specific databases or run specialized applications within a large company.

The meta-directory software, due to ship by mid-year, is designed to use existing directories within partner companies to control use of extranet applications.

The new version of Netscape's certificate server, software to issue and manage digital certificates, is called Certificate Management System, version 4.0. Although it includes features similar to PKI software--the specialty of companies like VeriSign, Entrust, and Baltimore Technologies--Netscape doesn't see itself as a PKI firm.

"We think of ourselves as more of an e-commerce security vendor," said Karen Horwitz, Netscape senior product marketing manager. "We offer a lot more options. Most e-commerce applications do not use digital certificates; most still use user names and passwords. We see the need for a more flexible range of security options."

The upgraded directory server supports crypto hardware accelerators, specialty computer chips or add-on boards from vendors such as Chrysalis-ITS, nCipher, and Rainbow Technologies that encrypt and decrypt data. It also supports authentication using smart cards from Datakey, Litronic, and others; Security Dynamics' SecurID security token, and Kerberos authentication from Dascom.

A related product called Netscape Delegated Administrator 4.0 lets extranet partners to delegate some directory management functions to an administrator in the other company.

Netscape also announced security customers including brokerage Lehman Brothers, Compaq, telco Bell Atlantic, and insurer American International Group. Netscape said it has sold more than 50 million seats of Netscape Directory Server in the past six months.

Netscape Directory Server 4.0 is available now starting at $2.50 per user. Netscape Certificate Management System 4.0 is due by March for $10 per user, and Netscape Delegated Administrator is expected by March for $1.75 per user. The products may also be purchased as part of the bundle for $11.50 per user.

Netscape Meta-Directory is due by September and will be priced at $3.75 per user.