Safety for Surfers

Building on the notion that the ultimate Internet security product is part software, part hardware, and a whole lot of trust, five leading hardware and software companies are forming an open-source alliance on Monday to promote safer surfing and shopping.

The group, known as the Trusted Computing Platform Alliance, plans to write framework specifications that will guide hardware and software developers toward building products that will provide security when you're online. Participants include Compaq Computer Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp., Intel Corp., and Microsoft Corp.

The alliance partners share the goal of making the Web safer for surfers, using open-source hardware and software. But each brings a different industry background and different expectations to the table.

"The first problem we've got today is an unknown of what's in the client," says Phil Hester, chief technology officer of IBM's personal systems group. "If you try to do security, you don't know the standard feature in a PC. E-business is a huge opportunity and if there's no basic set of standards, that marketplace will not develop. So we're taking a proactive role and define a set of standards."

The alliance members hope to release the specification that may spark that standard, by mid-2000.

Because this is an open-source effort, anyone can help TCPA create its standard through online discussions. But to participate, you'll have to sign a non-disclosure agreement, according to Peter Biddle, technical evangelist for Windows hardware at Microsoft.

"We're trying to build a utopian society through a computing platform," Biddle says. "We're announcing this now to give people a chance to give input in specifications."

The key to creating the standard is to ensure a consistent set of base capabilities that developers can take advantage of, says Lee Hirsch, director of security and privacy marketing at Intel.

One reason the "big five" hardware and software manufacturers are forming the TCPA is that Internet security software alone has seen amazing growth from 1997 to 1998, as noted in an August survey by International Data Corp. Use of firewalls grew 80 percent, encryption software use rose 31 percent, use of antivirus software grew 28 percent, and security authentication, authorization, and administration use rose 46 percent.

"Because of the increase in the number of people who make purchases over the Web, the growth of the average transaction size, and the adoption of the Web as a viable vehicle for business procurement, Internet commerce will grow substantially," says Carol Glasheen, director of primary research and market models at IDC.

But rather than working separately to create yet another product in a rapidly growing, but saturated market, the five companies allied to take matters in a different direction.

"Maybe we've got an ego, but the five companies are a starting point, not an end," says IBM's Hester.

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