Trans Union LLC, a leading competitor of Equifax Inc. in the credit information business, is hatching digital certification plans of its own.
With assistance from Verisign Inc., a major vendor of certificate services for electronic commerce, Trans Union said it plans to offer the digital credentials as a means of securing communications in and around what it calls its Relying Partner Network.
Drawing on its data bases and risk management tools, Trans Union would play the role of certificate authority, responsible for issuance and management of the customer certificates. Mountain View, Calif.-based Verisign is providing operational support for the service, scheduled to be in place this quarter.
"We looked at all of the top providers to help us create a leading digital certificate solution for our partners and consumers, and only Verisign had the broad digital certificate expertise that we were looking for," said James Randall, director of Trans Union's Internet business group.
The credit bureau was one of the first announced customers of Verisign Affiliate Services, a "trust infrastructure" program for "Internet communities of interest" with potentially sizable demands for the certificates that authenticate parties to an on-line communication or transaction.
Other users include Automotive Network Exchange, an electronic data interchange system for auto makers and their suppliers, and the legal publisher West Group.
In Trans Union's case, the community of interest revolves around home banking, on-line auction companies and brokerages, document delivery, Internet e-mail, Web retailing, and lending. Trans Union plans to distribute digital certificates to consumers referred to it from the Relying Partner Network, and a secure e-commerce network can build up around it.
On-line services could be marketed to the community, which would, in theory, be confident that transactions and personal data would be private and free from tampering.
"We are able to offer Internet businesses the ability to verify consumers' identities using our credit information and authentication infrastructure and enable secure and private Internet transactions," Mr. Randall said.
Mike Volk, product manager in Trans Union's Internet group, said the company has been exploring opportunities in public key infrastructure, the underlying data encryption technology, for two years. Trans Union decided, he said, that its strengths were in data bases, not in the PKI operations and expertise that it decided made more sense to buy from Verisign.
He said Trans Union expects to serve both existing and new customers and, via the Internet, "to reach out and extend the businesses we do today."