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RSA opens its software safe

With a bow to a competing technology, the company will release version 4.0 of its basic encryption engine and tools for programmers.

With a bow to a competing technology, RSA Data Security will release on Monday version 4.0 of its flagship BSafe toolkit, its basic encryption engine and tools for programmers to create secure applications.

For the first time, BSafe will support elliptic curve cryptography, an encryption algorithm that RSA has bad-mouthed in the past but now says customers want, particularly for small devices like smart cards, PDAs, cell phones, set-top boxes, pagers, and other devices with limited memory and processing power.

Encryption involves scrambling data based on complex mathematics so that unauthorized parties cannot decode the information.

BSafe 4.0, which has been in beta testing since February, also has added enhancements to speed up compute-intensive processing of encryption algorithms, the formulas used to secure data. RSA created a new application programming interface, dubbed BHAPI, to make it easier for hardware coprocessors to handle some of the load.

"We expect the field of providers to grow as a result. In the past, companies had to do fairly custom work," said Marty Jost, RSA senior product manager, naming hardware accelerator manufacturers like Atalla, Rainbow Technologies, and nCipher.

Working with Intel, RSA also rewrote some of its software in assembly language to speed cryptographic processing on Pentium II chips. Similar announcements are due soon for Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems' Solaris chips.

Other new features in version 4.0 of BSafe, the most widely used encryption toolkit, include support for two new protocols, the U.S. government's FIPS (Federal Information Processing Standard), and a series of finance and banking standards called ANSI X9.

Traditionally, RSA has sold its toolkit to commercial software companies developing applications, but Jost said that increasing numbers of companies are licensing the toolkit for internal applications. For example, Integrion Financial Network, an IBM-led consortium of the biggest banks in North America, has licensed the toolkit for online banking and e-commerce services.

The BSafe 4.0 software developers kit, which lets engineers build encryption into their applications, is available for $290. In addition, developers must license RSA's encryption algorithms in order to distribute their products.