Digital Signature Trust Co. said it has won a key certification role in the Automotive Industry Action Group's electronic data interchange system.

The trust company, known as DST and structured as an operating subsidiary of Zions First National Bank in Salt Lake City, will be the exclusive provider of a digital certificate directory for ANX, the Automotive Network Exchange.

DST also said it will be the only certification authority issuing certificates during the 1998 rollout phase of ANX, known as Release One.

The announcement represents a step forward for both parties to the deal.

ANX is viewed as an Internet commerce breakthrough, led by the major auto manufacturers and linking all their suppliers in a secure virtual private network. The organizers project cost savings in billions of dollars, once the system is fully implemented.

Digital certificates, which authenticate on-line buyers and sellers, require creation of a data encryption infrastructure and the maintenance of directories, revocation lists, policy statements, and other tasks.

ANX is casting a vote of confidence in DST's "unbiased approach to technology," said Karl E. Schohl, ANX business manager at the Automotive Industry Action Group. Because it supports certificate authority (CA) software from multiple vendors, "DST is best suited to aid the ANX in its efforts to encourage interoperability between different CA software products."

The virtual private network-a cordoned-off sector of the Internet-lets participants extend their corporate intranets to include trading partners. Standards, including digital signatures and a security protocol called IPSec, will be essential to the openness that ANX attempts to enforce.

DST intends to lead an "interoperability initiative" to let any compliant certificate authority systems participate, said the company's president, Scott Lowry.

The data exchanges between manufacturers and their suppliers are "critical to making sure that business continues to run smoothly," Mr. Schohl said. "Due to the competitive nature of the industry, security is a crucial component to the ANX network."

Verisign Inc. of Mountain View, Calif., announced last month that it, too, would provide digital certificates for ANX.

Mr. Schohl stressed Verisign's commitment "to work toward standards- based interoperability and cross-certification with other certificate vendors."

DST, which in competing with Verisign and others hopes to capitalize on its banking industry connections, offers certificates with systems from Certco LLC, Entrust Technologies Inc., and others. For ANX Release One it will provide an Entrust certification authority with an ICL i500 directory system.

Mr. Lowry has pointed to ANX as an example of what banks could accomplish with extranets in their own businesses such as mortgage lending. ANX's endorsement "shows we have the tools and skills to meet the security and authentication needs of an entire industry," he said.

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