Certicom Corp., which sells a data encryption technology well suited for smart cards and other small digital appliances, has joined a global alliance that is developing a security standard for wireless electronic commerce.
The initiative, known as Radicchio, was started in September by Electronic Data Systems Corp., the smart card company Gemplus, and Sonera SmartTrust, an e-commerce unit of the Finnish telecommunications company and wireless services pioneer Sonera.
Eyeing a projected $66 billion of mobile commerce by 2003, the companies want to promote PKIs, or public key infrastructures, based on data encryption in order to protect transactions to and from mobile phones, pagers, personal digital assistants, and other such devices.
Because of the length and complexity of cryptographic keys - sequences of hundreds of ones and zeros that lock and unlock protected data - many companies that want to economize on processing have explored Certicom's more compact approach to coding, called elliptic curve cryptography. Licensees include Hewlett-Packard Co. and its Verifone division, Motorola Inc., 3Com/Palm Computing, Qualcomm, and Schlumberger.
An elliptic curve key of 160 bits is said to be as secure as a conventional 1,024-bit key with standard RSA or DSA algorithms.
Certicom, based in Toronto and with many of its activities centered in Hayward, Calif., said it will contribute to Radicchio its expertise in such areas as Wireless Application Protocol, the GSM mobile telephone standard, and the Secure Sockets Layer and Wireless Transaction Layer Security protocols.
Gemplus, based in Gemenos, France, has been especially active as a supplier of Subscriber Identity Module chips for GSM phones. Many industry observers expect that this system of customer authentication will hasten a role for smart cards in mobile commerce.
Sonera SmartTrust developed the PKI framework for wireless financial transactions and information exchanges that forms the basis of Radicchio. The forum's founders want digital certificate authorities, mobile communications operators, systems integrators like EDS, device manufacturers, financial institutions, and governmental bodies to get behind Radicchio and ensure a high level of interoperability among systems and participants.
Joe Krull, Sonera SmartTrust's vice president of security and interim chief executive officer of Radicchi, said, "We look forward to Certicom's contributions, especially in the area of efficient PKI."
Prakash Panjwani, Certicom's director of wireless marketing, said the challenges of wireless commerce require "increased cooperation among operators, manufacturers, and application providers. Radicchio is the first global organization to bring together these players and provide the opportunity to promote secure wireless e-commerce solutions via innovative use of PKI technology."