BT plans smartcards for Springtime

Are smart cards the key to online security?

BT said Wednesday that it plans to launch a smartcard solution early next year to secure online transactions using its encryption technology.

Mark Powell, general marketing manager for BT Ignite, confirmed that BT will enter the fledgling smartcard market with a "product" at the start of next year. The smartcards will offer simple authentication for companies wanting to encrypt communications and could be expanded to offer consumers secure purchasing over the Internet.

"We're building on our reputation of supplying industrial strength services," said Powell. "We aim to become a world leader in security and have the expertise to become this world leader."

BT authenticates the identity of many commercial sites through its Trustwise service. This allows users to easily verify that a site is genuine by checking that its digital identity is backed by BT. This system certifies the authenticity of the encryption used to keep purchases private and a logical next step would be to provide end users with smartcards to secure their end of the transaction. Smartcard technology can also be integrated into traditional banking cards.

The telco believes that digital certificates and smartcard technology could drive the success of e-commerce simply by eliminating embarrassing security breaches. It holds the digital certificates that are the key to this digital security and keeps them under the same physical security usually found in a bank.

"If people are going to start using it, we need to start thinking about security," said Jackie Peake, marketing manager for Ignite, who pointed to recent security breaches at high profile companies in the UK.

BT will be jostling for position with American Express, which announced in November that it plans to launch smartcards and card readers in the UK.

Some analysts predict that the smartcard market is set to explode in Europe. While 284 million smartcards were shipped in Europe in 1999 research from IDC indicates that this number will grow to over a billion by 2004.

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