Gemplus is bolstering its bid to gain acceptance of its smart cards as network security devices.

A year since it introduced the Gemsafe card for user authentication, Gemplus this week unveiled a comprehensive security framework called Gemsafe Enterprise.

A product of the French manufacturer's recently organized Gemplus Software group, the package gives the chip card a key role in the management of public key infrastructures, the data-encryption-based systems that corporations are increasingly relying upon to protect information and prevent network intrusions.

Public key infrastructures, or PKIs, are "not always as easy to use or as secure as we'd like," said Scott R. Smith, director of product management who is based at Gemplus Americas headquarters in Redwood City, Calif.

"We didn't just want to introduce a secure smart card," he said in an interview. "We wanted to make PKI easier to use, and we think we have done that with Gemplus Enterprise."

The system takes advantage of the ability to store digital certificates and cryptographic keys, and to perform complex calculations such as digital signature operations, within the card's computer chip.

Also using personal-identification-number protection, the card is a portable security token, more compact and manageable than other devices that serve the same purpose. As a form of hardware security, it is considered far less vulnerable to attack than software coding.

Security vendors have long recognized the potential for smart cards in identification. Companies such as Litronic, Datakey, and Spyrus, which originally offered other "form factors" such as personal computer memory cards, have developed smart card versions at lower cost.

When Security Dynamics Technologies Inc. brought out a smart card version of its SecurID token, it used Gemplus technology. The chip card vendor Schlumberger has also built considerable security capabilities into its Cryptoflex line.

Gemplus is invoking its software development expertise to compare itself favorably against other providers of security tools. Mr. Smith emphasized his company's "life-cycle management and remote diagnostics," saying it is the "management component" that distinguishes Gemsafe Enterprise and eases the complexity of PKI in the process.

The "sophisticated smart-card-based solution not only enhances existing PKI implementations but also delivers an easy-to-use, convenient, and flexible foundation for extending services," said Donna Jeker, vice president of Gemplus Software information technology solutions. This includes "the possibility of multiple applications running on one card"-an idea that Gemplus and the entire smart card establishment is selling to get the most out of the technology and maximize its profitability.

Gemplus officials said corporate interest gravitates toward "logical and physical access"-controlling entry into both computer systems and physical locations-and on-premises transactions such as vending machine purchases.

Like other security vendors, Gemplus is stressing enterprisewide comprehensiveness, ease of installation, the scalability needed to adjust to changing organization sizes and demands, and the fully integrated nature of the program. It comes in three components, dubbed Gemsafe User, Gemsafe Manager, and the Gemsafe SDK, or software development kit, for further customized enhancements.

Gemplus User handles authentication and encryption according to open standards and accommodates various technology choices that might be made, such as Internet browser brands or cryptographic protocols.

Gemsafe Manager is characterized as the "central nervous system" that allows for "customization, expansion, and easy application management."

The User and SDK are to be available in July. Gemsafe Manager is scheduled for pilot tests in the third quarter and delivery in the fourth. The price of a 500-seat deployment ranges from $15,000 to $25,000, not including cards and reading devices.

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