A company that has been developing ways to securely distribute and deliver digital information sees smart cards and Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Java Card standard as a winning combination.
In yet another example of how smart card acceptance is spreading outside the banking field-though potentially influencing on-line payment functions- Wave Systems Corp. said that it will incorporate Java Card technology into its Embassy E-Commerce System.
With Embassy, Wave has been trying to establish the notion of a "trusted client," a personal computer or other device with embedded technology that can assure the secure delivery, as authorized, of various forms of digital content via open networks such as the Internet or cable television lines.
Reliance on the smart card-which can be a portable store of bank account numbers, other personal information, or virtual cash-can help make end-user devices more central to the value exchanges that will occur in e-commerce, Wave said in its Java Card announcement two weeks ago.
Elevating the PC's role runs counter to some recent talk in on-line transaction processing circles about the need to unburden the "client" and let merchant-server computers handle more of the necessary number- crunching. But it is also widely acknowledged that consumer concerns about privacy and loss of control are obstacles to e-commerce, and they may not be assuaged by giving merchants possession of credit card numbers and other sensitive data.
Wave Systems' approach "moves some power back to the consumer site," said Lark Allen, the 11-year-old company's vice president for secure networks, at a Smart Card Forum seminar last week in Washington. "The consumer can decide how much information he wants to give to an Internet merchant."
Indicating its commitment to smart cards as part of the "trusted client architecture," Wave has just become a full member of the Smart Card Forum, a multi-industry group that will bring it into contact with banks, telecommunications companies, educational institutions, government agencies, and others trying to put the chip technology to work.
Steven Sprague, president of Lee, Mass.-based Wave, said forum membership is "an important way for us to reach complementary markets and gain industry support" for the trusted client concept. "Any smart-card applications developer can use (Embassy) to deploy services."
Embassy-an acronym for EMBedded Application Security SYstem-has been designed flexibly, with open standards, to work with any form of digital transmission.
It can be implemented with hardware chipsets for PCs, with cable set-top boxes, and other devices. Of interest to the entertainment industry, the system has metering or pay-per-use capabilities.
Wave, which lost $3.7 million on $2 million of revenue in the first quarter and whose stock trades over the counter, recently announced a security-technology alliance with RSA Data Security Inc., the data encryption leader, and formed a joint venture with Sarnoff Corp. in the digital television field.
Concurrently with its Java Card announcement, Wave said Atmel Corp. will provide advanced chips for Embassy, a new version of which is scheduled to reach the market early next year.
Atmel, which has been raising its card industry profile after a recent acquisition of assets from Motorola Inc., is also producing the first 32- bit chips for Microsoft's Smart Card for Windows. Those initial cards are being assembled by American Microdevice Manufacturing Inc. of San Jose, Calif., with the Atmel AT90C3232 microcontroller, said to be 10 times faster than the previous chip card component.
Smart Card Forum president Donna Farmer said that with connections like Atmel-Wave "we are getting closer every day to the possible large-scale adoption of a shared, multiapplication smart card solution. This joint technology offering will help to accelerate the creation of new smart card applications based on distributed trust, using both portable chip cards and embedded security technology."
Michael Killen, a Silicon Valley technology analyst and head of Killen & Associates, said, "Adding secure e-commerce and financial transaction capabilities at the point of consumption will speed the adoption of an exciting new model for digital content and distribution of services."