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System keeps eye on videoconferencing

PictureTel finalized a deal for encryption technology from Cylink for videoconferencing.

Users worried about outsiders spying on videoconference meetings can now turn to PictureTel, which just finalized a licensing agreement for public-key encryption technology from Cylink for use with its videoconferencing equipment.

The licensing deal means that transmissions from PictureTel's System 4000 videoconferencing products are secure over both public telephone lines and intra-business networks. The agreement comes at a time when an increasing number of companies, concerned about communications security, are trying to use more and stronger encryption products, despite laws that limit the export of such technologies.

The System 4000 line is currently available and ranges in price from $30,000 to $45,000. Adding the encryption software costs an additional $575. The encrypted System 4000 automatically generates new keys, or encryption codes, for each session.

The System 4000 products use Cylink's 56-bit encryption, which exceeds the State Department's limits on legally exportable encryption technology. This means that PictureTel must now apply to the federal government for export licenses on a case-by-case basis; so far, the company has been granted only the right to sell the encrypted systems to overseas branches of U.S. companies.

Current law classifies encryption and encrypted products as munitions and in most cases forbids the export of encryption codes over 40-bits in length. But the current regulations are under fire in Congress from legislation known as the Pro-Code Bill that would eliminate controls on encryption technology. The bill is backed by a coalition of U.S. software companies and civil liberties groups.

Separately today, Matsushita announced that it would soon begin testing an Internet cryptography system it claimed was "theoretically impossible to break," according to a Newsbytes report.

The system, called Elliptic Curve Cryptography, will be tested on email and other communications tools used by the Wide Project, a computer network that links 39 universities and 47 corporations in Japan, according to the report.