New Digital Signature Law Prompts Vendor Scramble

FRAMINGHAM (07/20/2000) - Between now and October, leading e-commerce companies will be scrambling to implement digital signatures - software that provides a legally binding commitment the same way a physical signature does.

They want to be ready when nation's first federal law giving legal standing to digital signatures goes into effect Oct. 1.

And with the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act soon to become law, companies that offer technologies that enable the use of digital signatures are scrambling to get the word out about their products, which range from stand-alone applications to services that will offer secure environments for digital signatures to be recorded.

Some vendors offer tools that will let information technology managers create their own digital signatures, while others offer services that take over the job for them.

Among the vendors in the developing field are AlphaTrust Corp. in Dallas; Silanis Technology Inc. in Montreal and Silanis unit OnSign Inc., which offers technology for home and small-business users; Entrust Technologies in Plano, Texas; and Baltimore Technologies PLC in Boston.

AlphaTrust offers a Web-based subscription service that provides a secure online environment for digital signatures to be created and used. The service is available in three levels: individual use, business use or higher-security uses such as those of banks, law offices or health care providers.

AlphaTrust, like the other products and services, uses high-level public key infrastructure (PKI) authentication and digital certificates to protect and prove the identities of users.

Prices range from $20 per year for individuals to $40 to $80 annually for each equipped business desktop.

Personalization and Multiple Signatures

Silanis has ApproveIt, an e-commerce package that offers multisignature capabilities within documents.

ApproveIt allows users to create their own "ePersona" file to give them a unique electronic signature and identity. The system uses complex encryption, digital certificates and industry standard algorithms to ensure security.

ApproveIt sells for $150 per desktop and is also available through an enterprise license.

OnSign's consumer-oriented application can be downloaded for free. Signatures can be captured through an electronic pad or via a fax-back service that allows OnSign.com to digitize a user's signature. The signature's image is then encoded to make it unique to the user.

Entrust's TruePass is a new Web-based digital signature delivery service that provides digital safeguards, including certificates and PKI authentication for users. The average price of TruePass is $20 per desktop, while the average price of the related PKI 5.0 application is $32 per user.

Baltimore's UniCert also uses digital certificates and PKI technologies.

It works with standard Web browsers and mail clients.

Deployment costs range from about $70,000 to $250,000 per company.

James Eaton, a network security specialist at Chevron Canada Ltd. in Vancouver, British Columbia, said he is pleased with Entrust's PKI applications, which he has used for about three years to secure e-mail and other communications.

TruePass will make it easy and cost-effective to incorporate more wide-spread digital signature use, Eaton said, because it will have to be installed only on a central server and not on the desktops of users and customers.

George Copeland, a senior software developer at Vectrix Corp. in Dallas, an electronic-business service provider, uses AlphaTrust's high-level Global Trader subscription services. He said he's very satisfied with the service.

Vectrix also uses AlphaTrust encryption in its JetPay.com payment processing business, which requires high security to maintain user confidence. "It's worked out tremendously," he said.

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