Baltimore packages up PKI

In an attempt to widen the appeal of PKI - and make it easier for customers to understand - Baltimore is packaging its public key infrastructure technology into business suites

Troubled security software firm Baltimore is hoping to kick start the public Key infrastructure (PKI) market by making the technology more accessible with a suite of products. PKI uses public-key cryptography to set up a worldwide network of bodies authenticating digital signatures and certificates, but has been slow to take off due to high cost and a low understanding by potential customers of what it actually does. Baltimore is one of the leading PKI developers, but has seen its fortunes crumble during the dot-com decline. The company was forced to halve its workforce over the past 12 months after being relegated from the FTSE 250 as its share sank from a high of over £13 to 20 pence last year. The share price is now at just under 6 pence. Even the sale of its Content Technologies division earlier this year to enterprise email management firm Clearswift failed to buoy the share price, though it did help give Baltimore some much-needed working capital. The repackaging of its PKI technology into business suites is part of a strategy to widen the appeal of PKI -- and boost Baltimore's revenues. Richard Kinsella, marketing manager for Baltimore's Global Solutions Group, acknowledged the problems that PKI has experienced. "We have seen PKI used in governments, but the technology is probably very confusing for most businesses," he said. "PKI has been the domain of large corporates, and departmental managers probably look for other solutions. PKI has been a technology, but now we're trying to turn it into a business solution." The result, Trusted Business Suite, is a set of business modules offering security for networking, messaging and documents. The suite consists of modules, each of which sits on a core engine called the Baltimore Applied Solutions Engine (BASE). "One of the unique things BASE provides is centralised management, so that administrators can control users and solution modules from one screen," said Kinsella. "It also allows administrators to delegate administration to business line managers, so a human resources manager can control the security privileges of the 20 or so people who report to them." BASE pulls Baltimore's certificate management product Unicert version 5 together with Select Access, but it is not a move away from these products, said Kinsella. "It is simply to make Unicert useable for departmental work. Unicert itself still holds for large infrastructure-type projects." Three suites are available: Trusted Networks, Trusted Messaging and Trusted Workplace. Trusted Networks covers VPN and trusted Web access, with single sign-on and Web-based authentication; the messaging product provides for trusted access to email and Webmail; and the Workplace product is for documents and forms. "Trusted Documents," said Kinsella of one of the Trusted Workplace components, "allows any file to be digitally signed and encrypted, and you can add a tool bar in Word, Excel or Acrobat to make it easy to encrypt documents." The product comes with an Acrobat-like reader application. "This lets you sign and encrypt electronic documents and distribute them to third parties who can read them and verify signatures and certificates even if they don't have their own PKI-aware applications," said Kinsella. Baltimore's reader software could go some way toward addressing one of the major criticisms of PKI: that it is only really useful when everyone else has it. "When only a few people have it, it is not worth adopting," said Whitfield Diffie, chief security officer of Sun Microsystems speaking at the recent RSA security conference in Paris.

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