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VeriSign brings companies their own digital IDs

In a new twist to its digital certificate offerings, VeriSign unveils OnSite, which lets companies issue their own digital IDs as a certificate authority.

VeriSign, adding a new twist to its digital certificate offerings, today unveiled a hybrid product called OnSite, which lets companies issue their own digital IDs as a certificate authority.

But the new offering still comes with a service component--VeriSign will maintain all the back-end hardware and manage databases of the certificates it issues, revokes, and renews.

"We are bringing certificate services to the mainstream," said Bob Pratt, VeriSign product line manager. "We wanted something to address the company that needs 500 certificates for secure email or 2,000 for subscribers to a service. OnSite is a service solution aimed at the average company."

Digital certificates are the equivalent of an ID card, much as a driver's license is often used in the physical world. Based on public-key cryptography, digital certificates verify the identity of a person or Web site. (See related story.)

VeriSign's main business is to issue digital certificates as a service on behalf of its customers. The OnSite hybrid lets companies decide who gets certificates, issue the certificates themselves, and determine the information included on the digital ID. But by outsourcing the back-end hardware and databases, the new VeriSign service lets a company's MIS department avoid the need to buy and manage a certificate server on site.

"Customers liken it to payroll services," VeriSign's Pratt said. "Any company can do its own payroll, but most use ADP or PayChex because it's easier. But the company still decides who gets a paycheck and for how much."

OnSite is designed primarily for companies to issue certificates to employees for intranets or secure email, to customers and partners for access to extranets, and to paid subscribers for access to online information, Pratt said.

VeriSign's new offering will compete primarily with certificate server software for companies to set up and run their own certificate authority. Vendors including Netscape Communications and Microsoft have announced a certificate server.

OnSite also will compete with software from Entrust Technologies and others to create an enterprise-scale public-key infrastructure for large companies to issue and manage their own digital certificates.

OnSite requires only a Web browser on client systems, both for administrators to configure the service and for users to request certificates.

VeriSign also announced several beta customers, including phone company Ameritech, the Arizona Department of Education, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and Softbank Forums? subscription services division.

Pricing begins at $4,995 for up to 1,000 certificates. OnSite is due to ship next month. It will be available through VeriSign's Web site, its direct sales force, and through resellers.

VeriSign also announced today that Security Dynamics, an enterprise security company that owns a minority interest in VeriSign, is the first reseller of the product.