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Under an agreement between the two companies, Microsoft will add new hooks and tools into products such as Windows 2000 and .Net enterprise servers that will allow them to work better with the Identrus network.
Microsoft will also work with Unisys and Baltimore Technologies to develop and sell a pre-packaged, Identrus-ready technology suite that financial services firms can use to secure high value, Internet-based transactions quickly.
Identrus, established by eight leading global banks, including ABN Amro, Bank of America, Chase Manhattan and Citigroup, has been building a global system based on public-key infrastructure (PKI) aimed at allowing financial institutions and corporate trading partners to identify one another reliably during e-commerce transactions. The system is also designed to create non-disputable records of the transactions.
Identrus has prescribed specifications, standards and interoperability test processes that technology vendors must meet to be able to sell to member institutions. Today, more than 70 banks are part of the Identrus system.
Today's agreement means more applications are becoming available that meet these requirements, said Laura Rime an Identrus vice-president.
As part of the agreement, Microsoft will integrate into products such as Windows 2000 and BizTalk an Identrus tool kit that specifies how messages are to be handled within the Identrus system and how validation of certificates should work, Rime said.
Such processes are already possible but typically take time and integration efforts by Identrus' member banks, Rime said. The agreement will make it simpler for financial institutions to bring Microsoft products into the Identrus network, she added.
"It's a great win for Identrus because the integration effort was always forced on banks," said Pete Lindstrom, an analyst with The Hurwitz Group. "Identrus wants to make access to their service as ubiquitous as possible.
"This makes it easier for them to get the message out to prospective banks that there is no integration required [on the client] side," he said.
Products such as Windows 2000 already support PKI and mechanisms for secure e-commerce, said Bill Hartnett, global director of financial services at Microsoft.
However, "there are certain pieces of the Identrus standard and certain Identrus-specific [requirements] that need to be met", which Microsoft is now integrating into its products, he said. Identrus-ready Microsoft products should be available by the second half of the year, he added.
Meanwhile, Microsoft, Unisys and Baltimore plan to design, develop and sell a Windows 2000-based technology suite that combines Baltimore's UniCERT PKI technology and Unisys' applications, systems integration services, project management and consulting services.
The suite will include Identrus-compliant smart card management technology, a digital signature messaging system, validation services, FIPS 1401-1 Level 3 hardware security modules and secure transaction logging services.