Microsoft Corp. has given Gemplus and Schlumberger not just a technology platform for smart card systems development but also a racetrack for rapid deployment.

The two chip card vendors, which each claim leadership in various measures of industry size, stood side by side behind Microsoft last year when the software giant introduced the Smart Cards for Windows extension of the Windows operating system.

Their endorsements marked the beginning of one of the contests-among card producers, software developers, and systems integrators-that Microsoft is hoping will establish a widespread preference for Smart Cards for Windows.

But there are other, more basic and entrenched uses of Windows that have the smart card vendors racing.

A month ago, Schlumberger Smart Cards and Terminals in San Jose, Calif., announced that its high-powered Cryptoflex card is ready to interoperate with the next-generation Windows 2000 operating system.

Last week, Gemplus' recently formed Gemplus Software division announced expanded initiatives with Microsoft, building on the similar compatibility for the GemSafe smart card it introduced last year.

Both organizations are emphasizing what they call IT-information technology-security, which smart cards with cryptographic capabilities can enhance by storing digital certificates to authenticate cardholder identities.

Biometric identification could also be a part of it, as the fingerprint system vendor Veridicom, a Lucent Technologies spinoff, has demonstrated with Gemplus. Schlumberger did a similar demonstration early this year with American Biometric Co. of Canada and an Entrust Technologies Inc. public key encryption infrastructure.

Microsoft has become something of a booster through specifications for Windows-based computers and its support for PC/SC, a standardization effort for linking smart cards with personal computers.

"Smart cards are ideal for high-security applications like network log- on, secure e-mail, and secure remote access over the Internet," said Jason Garms, the Redmond, Wash., software giant's Windows security product manager. He pointed out that Schlumberger's Cryptoflex "takes advantage of the extensive public key infrastructure, or PKI, integrated into the Windows 2000 platform."

Windows 2000, previously known as NT 5.0, is a much anticipated business computing platform that is nearing market readiness. Microsoft has been criticized for delays in Windows 2000, but the chip card industry is eager for it and is trying to help corporate technology providers and users gear up.

"Smart-card-based security solutions are increasingly viewed by corporate IT departments as the best manner for enforcing security and overcoming the weaknesses of password-based security," said Donna Jeker, vice president of Gemplus Software in Redwood City, Calif.

She said Windows 2000 "will ease the implementation of smart card security applications in the enterprise environment. Our work with Microsoft is geared to providing early users of Windows 2000 with the tools and expertise that will enable banking organizations, IT departments, and Internet service providers to secure access to physical and on-line computing resources."

Gemplus, a $650 million company with world headquarters in France, said its GemSafe card is interoperable with Windows 95, 98, and NT 4.0 in addition to 2000. GemSafe cards are being supplied by Microsoft for the Windows 2000 Rapid Deployment Program and are being used in a technical reviewers workshop.

Last month, Gemplus announced two products in this area, the 2.0 version of GemSafe and a software development kit. A big selling point is compatibility with both Microsoft and Netscape Internet software.

"We are pleased that Gemplus is adding to the breadth of software solutions available for Microsoft Windows 2000 Professional," said Robert Bennett, group product manager for Windows at Microsoft. The combination "will provide business users with a powerful desktop solution that is built on standards-based security, industrial-strength reliability, and faster overall performance."

With its recent Windows 2000 announcement, Schlumberger listed several other IT security systems that have Cryptoflex compatibility. Their providers included ActivCard of France and Fremont, Calif.; Aliroo of Israel and McLean, Va.; the Canadian elliptic curve cryptography company Certicom; hardware security supplier Litronic of Irvine, Calif.; and the digital certificate servicer Verisign Inc. of Mountain View, Calif.

"Security in a box just doesn't exist," said Merzad Madavi, director of information security for Schlumberger Smart Cards and Terminals, North America. "IT security requires interoperable capabilities and integration of a wide range of technology from industry leaders who have the know-how to use smart cards to address real-world problems."

Schlumberger's Cryptoflex, he said, "provides a high level of interoperability for making security work in the enterprise."

A doubling of the Cryptoflex chip memory, to 8,000 bytes, has increased the card's computing speed, enabling RSA digital signature operations with 1,024-bit encryption keys to be processed in less than half a second. Users can choose key lengths of 512, 768, or 1,024 bits, and there is still ample space in the 8K memory for digital credentials such as key pairs and certificates.

Schlumberger has signed a memorandum of understanding to make its chip card technology part of Keyware Technologies' Layered Biometric Verification, or LBV, system.

LBV is not tied to a single form of biometrics, such as fingerprints or voice patterns. Keyware's LBV Security Server accommodates any one technique or combination.

The companies view smart cards as a superior alternative to central data bases for storing personal details.

Smart-card-based verification "gives individuals ownership of their personal information," said Francis Declercq, president of Keyware, which is based in Belgium and has an office in Woburn, Mass.

''Schlumberger has a proven track record in smart card technology and readers," he said, "and shares our innovative approach to meeting customer demand for creative solutions that are user-friendly and simple to deploy."

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