The American Bankers Association's ABAecom subsidiary has formed an alliance with a local-government technology group to raise awareness about on-line commerce and related security methods.

On the assumption that financial institutions and government agencies are in strong positions to ensure security by authenticating parties engaged in electronic transactions, ABAecom is planning educational programs and perhaps demonstration projects with the government organization, Public Technology Inc.

Digital Signature Trust Co., a subsidiary of Zions First National Bank of Salt Lake City and a supplier of digital authentication technology to ABAecom, would also play a role in the ABA-government initiative.

"There are synergies between the groups," said Thomas Greco, president of ABAecom. "The involvement of Digital Signature Trust has helped."

He said the bank affiliate, known as DST, had been exploring-and recently piloted-a Web site authentication service with Public Technology Inc. It is similar to the SiteCertain service, ABAecom's first offering when the venture got off the ground last year.

DST's digital certificates and a logo signifying its presence are designed to assure Internet visitors that a given site is legitimate.

"Both groups saw mutual opportunity," Mr. Greco said. "Governments and financial institutions form the basis for a lot of the trust that people will be looking for on the local government level," he said, as business dealings and document exchanges go on-line.

The ABA and the government group "believe that the expression of a common vision by industry and government groups will spur the use of electronic commerce for service delivery," said Costis Toregas, president of Public Technology Inc., or PTI.

"Our collaboration is a milestone in progress toward streamlining transactions and saving costs," he said.

The Washington organization was formed in 1971 to promote and assist with city and county governments' use of technology. It is backed by the National League of Cities, the National Association of Counties, and the International City/County Management Association, which together represent more than 20,000 local entities.

Mr. Greco said the PTI-ABAecom collaboration in promoting digital certification and explaining its trust and security benefits could help "the true potential of the Internet to be realized."

The PTI alliance is one of several prongs in ABAecom's strategy to promote authentication technology while staking out a prominent position for banks.

Besides serving as a root certificate authority in the public key infrastructure, or PKI, necessary to manage this type of data encryption system, ABAecom wants to play a coordinating role for the entire financial services industry.

It sees that as analogous to what the ABA does with credit card account numbers or the Cusip securities numbering system. Nonbank groups such as the American Council of Life Insurance and Investment Company Institute are represented on ABAecom's policy advisory committee.

"We are also looking outside the financial industry," Mr. Greco said.

Commerce in the real world involves more than just financial institutions and government, he said: "If electronic commerce is to be pushed forward, there is a need for a broader discussion. We would like to think that there will be more announcements similar to the one with PTI."

PTI and ABAecom issued a statement this month listing what Mr. Greco described as "standard principles both groups espouse." They include:

Security levels for a given transaction "should be reasonable for the context and application involved."

The technology of public key encryption "holds significant promise" as a foundation for secure e-commerce, with the corresponding digital certificates assuring message integrity and nonrepudiation.

Standards-based networks will speed adoption of digital certificates, and cross-system interoperability "must be encouraged."

Addressing the need for marketplace education, "both organizations will develop programs, separately and jointly, that will explain the benefits of digital certificates and how PKI can achieve the security requirements of the public, business, and government market spaces."

PKI and certificates can be deployed and demonstrated in such areas as tax filing, on-line banking and lending, business-to-business commerce, secure access to corporate systems through extranets, permissions management, electronic procurement, document filing, and e-mail.

Mr. Greco said that as the alliance takes hold, he and colleagues will begin appearing at seminars for government officials. Government opportunities will be spotlighted in ABAecom and DST educational and marketing efforts, he added, and there could be certification pilots involving financial institutions and local governments.

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