The digital certificate consortium Identrus LLC and Microsoft Corp. are to announce today an initiative that could go a long way toward getting more of the consortium’s 41 bank members set up for electronic identity authentication.

So far only six of the New York-based group’s bank members have put in the tens of millions of dollars and 16 to 18 months of time it takes to implement a digital certificate system. Identrus is counting on its deal with Microsoft to make it easier and cheaper for the other 35 to get hooked up.

The Redmond, Wash., software giant will help Identrus build an infrastructure that the two say will cut deployment time to only three months and reduce costs by one-third. Microsoft also will make Identrus digital certificates a core part of its updated Windows 2000 operating system as well as future versions of the system, due out next year.

Guy S. Tallent, Identrus’ president and chief executive officer, said in an interview, “The arrangement we’ve made with Microsoft is the adoption of Identrus as a core part of their operating system, effectively baked in.”

By weaving Identrus into Windows, companies will be able to use Windows products, including the popular e-mail product Microsoft Outlook, to identify one another in Internet transactions and to initiate nondisputable transactions.

“It is a matter of eliminating the need for the end user to do anything when it comes to e-commerce enabling from a trust perspective,” Mr. Tallent said. “It eliminates interoperability issues in b-to-b commerce, when identical security standards, in this case Identrus digital certificates, are incorporated right into the b-to-b application.”

An industrywide effort is under way to make digital certificate implementation less expensive and less cumbersome. Another provider, Digital Signature Trust of Salt Lake City, recently announced its KickStart promotion, in which it promises to install a digital certificate infrastructure within five days for only $50,000.

Setting up a public key infrastructure — the general policies and procedures for exchanging secure information — “has been a costly endeavor for banks, whether it is from Identrus” or another security firm, Mr. Tallent said. “PKI is tough. It’s something that needs to happen and we need to make it available for banks of all sizes.”

Bill Hartnett, global director of financial services at Microsoft, said his firm’s bank customers “wanted us to work with Identrus to come up with a Microsoft-based solution.”

Microsoft is teaming up with Blue Bell, Pa.-based Unisys Corp., and the Irish security firm Baltimore Technologies, to build the new architecture. Microsoft, which began discussions with Identrus about the partnership six months ago, hopes to deploy the system with its first bank this summer, Mr. Hartnett said.

Dan Blum, senior vice president of the Burton Group in Salt Lake City, said of the Identrus-Microsoft pairing: “You have a gorilla in the financial services industry meeting up with a gorilla in the software operating systems industry. It removes potential barriers to taking Identrus from something that sounds good in theory to something that can be done in practice.”

Avivah Litan, research director with Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn., said, “This is support coming from the most powerful technology vendor, Microsoft, to get Identrus rolling.”

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