The data security company Xcert International Inc. has added two technology suppliers to an already imposing list of strategic allies.

Xcert, which is trying to outmaneuver larger providers of digital certificate systems such as Entrust Technologies Inc. and Verisign Inc., struck one deal with Shym Technology Inc., which specializes in easing the deployment of public key encryption infrastructures for electronic commerce.

In the other, Xcert agreed to integrate its Sentry CA certificate authority system with the Smarty, a device from SmartDisk Corp. that enables smart cards to be read in the floppy disk drives of personal computers. The tie-in will make it easier for corporations using Xcert's public key infrastructure, or PKI, system to issue digital certificates on smart cards.

Xcert also recently obtained a 15% equity investment from General Electric Co. PLC of Britain, which plans to incorporate the certificate technology in efforts "to meet market demand and maintain a competitive edge in Internet and e-commerce markets, said Jack Fryer, strategic planning director of the company known as GEC, which is no relation to General Electric of Stamford, Conn.

The certificates authenticate individuals and businesses, resulting in secure and private on-line communications and assuring that valid transactions cannot be improperly repudiated.

Shym and SmartDisk also became members of the OpenXchange Partners Program, which promotes Xcert's approach to public key infrastructure across a variety of hardware and software. Companies in the program can jointly sell their wares with Xcert. Among the more than 20 members are Aventail Corp., Celo Communications, Chrysalis-ITS, Digital Signature Trust Co., nCipher Inc., and Network Associates.

Xcert, privately held and based in Walnut Creek, Calif., is a strong advocate of open standards and interoperability, principles it attempts to promote through the OpenXchange program and the "Xcertification" of the vendors' products.

Xcert, which includes the American Bankers Association's ABAecom digital security subsidiary among its customers, also prides itself on its CA, or certificate authority, software's ability to scale up to millions of users. No CA vendor has yet had the opportunity to prove such a proposition, though several such challenges, including a program Xcert was recruited for in Germany, are waiting in the wings.

The Sentry CA version 3.7, which became available in September, is said to bring a 500% to 1,000% performance improvement over 3.6. Xcert said the new version can support more than 250,000 users on a single computer server. The OpenXchange program is, in part, dedicated to ensuring that vendors can meet the requirements of large-scale certificate authorities.

Through Shym and SmartDisk, Xcert further widens its interoperability circle.

Shym, a two-year-old company based in Needham, Mass., is the developer of PKEnable software, which is designed to let public key infrastructure technologies "snap in" to any computing environment. Multivendor compatibility is by definition crucial for PKEnable, and Shym has compiled "an unmatched library of applications and PKI support," said president and chief executive officer James Geary.

PKEnable can significantly cut the time necessary to provide public-key-generated digital certificates with both custom systems and off-the-shelf applications such as Lotus Notes or the SAP and PeopleSoft enterprise resource planning packages. Xcert joins Entrust, Verisign, GTE Cybertrust, and Baltimore Technologies on the list of suppliers of PKIs that Shym can "snap in."

"Having PKEnable Xcertified ensures the continuing interoperability of Xcert and Shym's products," said Thomas Nolan, president and CEO of Xcert. The end result is "secure applications that are less costly, faster to implement, and more manageable."

Xcert's Sentry CA and SmartDisk's Smarty reader/writer for plastic cards with computer chips add up to "bulletproof security and peace of mind for companies and individuals electronically disseminating sensitive information," according to a joint announcement.

Smarty, which is the size of a 3.5-inch disk that can be inserted into a PC, was developed by Fischer International Systems Corp. of Naples, Fla. It retains ownership in the SmartDisk spinoff, whose other investors include Toshiba Corp., Hitachi Ltd., and NEC Corp., all of Japan.

"Our partnership with Xcert allows us to further extend our customer base with added PKI interoperability," said Quresh Sachee, SmartDisk vice president of marketing. "We needed to rely on a partner that could deliver the security our customers demand and has a strategy for providing innovative solutions well into the future."

Xcert founder and chief technology officer Patrick Richard said, "SmartDisk is leading the way by offering their customers the most innovative miniature storage media and smart card solutions with the greatest level of security available."

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Xcert International said it has licensed its public key infrastructure and digital certificate software, Sentry CA, to Arcanvs, which is active in the health-care certification authority business.

Arcanvs (the "v" is pronounced as a "u"), based in Salt Lake City, is one of only five licensed certificate authorities in the United States, Xcert said. It has been licensed in Utah, Washington, Oregon, and Minnesota. It performs transaction security functions for a national interoperability program sponsored by the Workgroup for Electronic Data Interchange and Association for Electronic Health Care Transactions.

"Having extensively surveyed the PKI marketplace during the past three years, we have found Xcert to be a pioneer in applying open standards to PKI solutions," said Arcanvs president Gordon Romney.

The company is involved in a legal dispute with Zions Bancorp. of Salt Lake City, which it accused of sharing company secrets with an affiliate, Digital Signature Trust Co., in the course of a loan evaluation. Digital Signature Trust was the country's first licensed CA and is another Xcert licensee.

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