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RSA hired to protect cable

Cable Television Labs and RSA Data Security announce a pact to make the U.S. cable network more secure for high-speed Net access.

Cable Television Laboratories and RSA Data Security today announced a pact to make the U.S. cable network more secure for uses such as high-speed Net access.

"The new security system is designed to protect entertainment, voice, and data services, as well as the privacy of cable customers," the companies said.

Under the agreement, CableLabs--the research arm of the U.S. cable industry--will distribute and sublicense RSA's encryption software to cable equipment manufacturers. The manufacturers will have a choice of encryption schemes to build into their products, which include set-top boxes, cable modems, and video servers.

The new security framework will be designed to address theft of service and denial of service, which CableLabs calls "the two primary threats faced by digital cable network operators." When implemented, the framework could spell an end to the widespread practice of black-market cable boxes that receive unpaid-for programming.

As with phone lines, security is a key ingredient to winning consumers' confidence in the burgeoning business for Net access via cable. The industry is still small, with estimates of more than 100,000 U.S. subscribers, but it is projected to reach beyond 1 million by mid-1999. Competition is stiff among companies such as Time Warner's Road Runner, US West's Media One, and @Home, jointly owned by Tele-Communciations Inc., Comcast, and Cox, among others. Road Runner and MediaOne are merging their operations.

Security on the cable systems has been a recurring concern among users, although until now its threat largely has been downplayed by industry executives.

As reported earlier, @Home updated its software in November to keep subscribers to its cable modem service from sharing each other's files or viewing them without permission. This arose because @Home's customers were activating a file sharing feature in Windows 95 without protecting those files with passwords.

In addition, the companies that provide the Net access via cable are rolling out more entertainment and e-commerce features, highlighting the need to make data as secure as possible.