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Atalla speeds up e-commerce

Hardware-based Internet security processors accelerate encryption handling for faster online transactions.

Jumping into an emerging market segment for electronic commerce, Atalla today will introduce two hardware-based Internet security processors optimized to handle public-key cryptography.

Atalla, a wholly-owned unit of Tandem Computers (TDM), thinks its chips can accelerate encryption processing by Web servers so commercial or intranet Web servers can handle transactions faster.

One Atalla chip, SignMaster ISP, is targeted to certification authorities (CAs) and digital signature applications, which are how buyers and sellers ascertain they are dealing with the right person or organization.

The other, PayMaster ISP, is designed to handle financial transactions under the proposed Secure Electronic Transaction (SET) protocol, an emerging standard backed by the major credit card companies: Visa, Mastercard, and American Express.

Atalla's specialty chips appear to be the first targeted specifically for electronic commerce. The company will not announce pricing or availability.

"By isolating cryptographic processing from commercial servers," Robert Gargus, Atalla president and general manager said, both coprocessors aim to speed the computation-intensive aspects of encrypted communications.

The chips target separate but key market segments. CAs serve as trusted third parties that issue digital IDs to vouch for the identities of people or organizations on the Net. SET is designed to be sure no hackers peek at transactions or steal credit card numbers.

CAs are seen as key elements for home banking, online shopping, electronic data interchange (EDI), secure email, and intranet access and authorization for access to sensitive information.

Atalla's SignMaster will handle cryptographic tasks such as key generation, certification, verification, and signing. Those tasks are today generally handled in software, which is slower and, some say, less secure than a hardware-based approach.

PayMaster, aimed at credit card transactions as well as intranet communication, handle encryption algorithms from RSA Data Security and DES-based encryption.