NEW YORK--A new Navigator plug-in is helping users affix their signatures to electronic documents in a new version of digital security now being tested by the Internal Revenue Service.
The plug-in, called PenOp, works in conjunction with a graphics tablet that lets users write their signatures into an electronic file using a digital pen. The plug-in was developed by British company Peripheral Vision but is being marketed in the United States by a newly founded subsidiary based in New York, also named PenOp.
The device, announced at the Internet and Electronic Commerce Conference here today, is intended as an alternative kind of security for electronic documents passed over the Internet. Digital certificates are now considered the most secure way to authenticate the identity of the sender of an electronic document. The certificates work by assigning a unique encrypted number to computers or email accounts that the server can read and compare with the name that the receiver sees.
But by using an electronic version of an actual handwritten signature, PenOp offers a verification technique more like traditional methods of authentication, such as signing credit card receipts when buying something over the Internet. To counter digital forgeries, the PenOp plug-in not only measures what a signature looks like but how it was written, such as speed and pauses. The signature file itself is encrypted when sent over the Internet.
The IRS is field-testing the technology at three electronic tax filing centers in the Southeast. If the trials work out, the agency may incorporate the technology into its systems for electronic tax filing.
Because PenOp is also available as a software development kit for Windows, it can be incorporated into other kinds of standalone software projects.