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Security put to the test

Microsoft tests an interface that will help developers build applications with security features, such as digital signatures and public key encryption.

In an expansion of its Internet Security Framework, Microsoft (MSFT) today started beta-testing an interface that will help developers build applications with security features, such as digital signatures and public key encryption, and broadened its commitment to the creation of smart card applications.

The announcements were made today in Redmond, Washington, before representatives from banks and technology providers. Microsoft is trying to impress this particular audience with its interest and competence in the area of Net security and new banking-related technologies, including as smart cards, plastic cards with embedded chips that can carry such information as digital cash, medical, or other personal records.

As the first part of this demonstration, Microsoft pointed to CryptoAPI 2.0, an application programming interface that gives developers the ability to link pre-built security modules from third-party software makers to new and existing applications. The API supports software encryption, such as encryption algorithms, as well as hardware solutions such as smart cards.

To promote the use of smart cards with personal computers, Microsoft is forming the PC/SC Workgroup in partnership with Hewlett-Packard, Bull CP8, Schlumberger Electronic Transactions, and Siemens Nixdorf.

The group will release specifications for smart card technology in the fourth quarter this year and will begin shipping products, such as standalone card readers, keyboards with built-in card readers, and the cards themselves by the first quarter of 1997, a Microsoft spokesperson said.

The specifications will be based on open standards, ensuring that cards and readers from different vendors will be cross-platform and interoperable regardless of the application they are used with. Microsoft expects to provide development tools to help promote the implemention of the new standards.

Hewlett-Packard and Siemens Nixdorf said they will provide smart card readers and software applications for their Windows PCs in 1997.

Because sensitive information, including bank accounts and personal records, will compose a large amount of the data stored on smart cards, the PC/SC Workgroup will focus on cryptography and storage specifications, in addition to programming and applications interfaces.