Public sector lights up PKI's horizon

A worldwide spate of government tenders and the corporate rollout of Windows 2000 is giving battered vendors in thepublic key infrastructure (PKI) space new hope.

A "phenomenal" number of public sector PKI tenders have been called in the past six months, says Sue Pontius, CEO ofSilicon Valley company Spyrus Technologies.

She was in Australia recently talking to online gaming organisations interested in using PKI to control under-age andproblem gambling.

Pontius says US, Canadian, UK, Indian and Chinese and Middle East governments all have open tenders for projectsdestined to grow into millions of PKI-based digital certificates over the next 24 months.

That might put some of the gloss back on PKI which has suffered in the past eight months from the stock price buffetinggiven to market valuations of stalwarts like Baltimore Technologies (now down around $US0.70 after touching $US14 lastDecember).

"PKI was a Wall Street darling but a number of these companies have gone from multi-billion dollar valuations to muchsmall valuations," Pontius says.

"The impression is that because that is happening, PKI must be failing."

In fact, PKI has emerged as a proven framework over the past few years and its technologies, policies and proceduresare essential for any enterprise seeking to responsibly manage the risks associated with digital assets, she claims.

Another change working in PKI's favour is the corporate user migration to Windows 2000, according to Pontius.

"What we've been experiencing in markets everywhere is that the crucial shift from Windows 95 and Windows NT to theWin2000 upgrade is happening now in government and with major corporations.

"Win2000 is the first platform that puts applications out there which use digital certificates and which also supportsmartcard logon."

It signals a switch from today's challenge-and-response environment, where users type in their password and ID, to anew era of PKI certificates and authentication via smartcards or USB tokens, Pontius says.

"What people don't realise when they talk about smartcards is that in the entertainment and consumer area there arealready 22 million smartcards in US household set-top boxes which authorise pay-per-view services."

A 75-person privately-held company, Spyrus incorporates Australian technology in its PKI business solutions and has anR&D operation headquartered in Brisbane.

The Australian PKI market is "starting to percolate", Pontius says. "We want to make this country a launching pad forus in the Asia-Pacific region."

The Australian Tax Office has issued about 250,000 digital certificates to businesses under the government-backedGatekeeper national framework for authenticating online users. That alone puts Australia in the front ranks ofcountries using PKI digital certificates, Pontius says.

In another area, she believes PKI products such as Spyrus' could "greatly minimise" the ability of under age andproblem gamblers to abuse online gaming systems.

"We've been talking to companies in this region about coming together to address the problem of player protection."

Certificate technology could restrict the amounts individual players can spend weekly on online lotteries or horseracing.

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