Working with a French technology company, Mondex International has extended the capabilities of its operating system to the security realm.
Mondex chose a digital identification and authentication system from Activcard to plug into the multiple-application operating system, Multos, that underlies the Mondex electronic cash technology.
Organizations adopting Multos will have a ready-made security system that can run alongside previously implemented stored value, credit and debit, and loyalty-point applications, all on a single smart card.
Multos cards with the Activcard enhancement can thus hold digital certificates, reinforcing simple personal identification numbers or passwords and turning the cards into portable authentication devices and digital signature generators for electronic commerce and document transmissions.
"Other companies will offer this on Multos and other cards, and there is nothing to prevent a card issuer from building its own" information security capability, said Lloyd Daniels, senior manager for new products and ventures at London-based Mondex. "But we saw digital identity as a must-have, something generic enough that it is worthwhile for us to put on Multos, where it is available for everyone to benefit."
Mr. Daniels said that with so many options on the market, "it didn't make sense for us to start from scratch," and the search for a supplier led to the selection of Activcard.
The 100-employee company is based in Paris, with many of its administrative and sales functions in Fremont, Calif.
Activcard, which describes itself as "a leader in the integration of strong authentication and electronic certification technology," has deployed hundreds of thousands of handheld devices for on-line banking and other network security purposes.
"We can deploy authentication in a pure software implementation, in handheld tokens, or on a smart-card platform," said Doug Kernan, vice president of marketing. The latter two options, being hardware and thus more difficult to tamper with, are usually preferred over software.
Mr. Kernan said Activcard viewed the Multos win as "a significant endorsement," given the position of Mondex and its parent, MasterCard International, in the smart card market.
He said Activcard's ability to operate on multiple platforms-it also works with Visa and has "ported" its technology to Microsoft Windows NT- "will raise the bar in terms of the value we are able to add" in financial services applications.
"Historically, we have been more of a network-oriented service," the marketing officer said.
Mr. Daniels of Mondex said the ready availability of security underscores that "the infrastructure is there" for smart-card-based commerce. Though the dearth of chip-card readers on personal computers and other devices is often seen as an impediment, Mr. Daniels contended that readers are the last links in the chain and soon will be addressed by PC and keyboard manufacturers.
"Browsers, how they handle cards and encryption, e-mail systems, Web and enterprise servers-all these support what we are doing already," he said. "We are just fitting the card into a deployed infrastructure."
Activcard separately announced an agreement with Visa International to provide authentication technology for the Visa Open Platform, the smart card framework based on Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Java programming language.
Visa members will be able to "move forward in the essential smart-card functions of payment and customer identification," said Visa senior vice president Philip Yen. "The beauty of Activcard is its ability to simplify the authentication process" on the Internet or other types of networks, he said.