Alliance Wisely Divides e-Business Roles

In a move to further instill confidence in its budding e-business initiatives, IBM announced a services outsourcing agreement with Equifax Inc. (Atlanta). Beginning this month, IBM will sweeten its Vault Registry digital certificate software solution with Equifax's digital certificate services.

The companies have formed an alliance to provide electronic commerce certificate capabilities and the necessary services, says Ken Fitzpatrick, program director for IBM Internet security solutions. "For businesses looking to move mission-critical applications or high-value transactions to the Internet, Vault Registry is the ideal solution to infuse confidence and trust," he explains.

According to Chris Gwynn, a senior analyst with The Yankee Group (Boston), the alliance between IBM and Equifax is consistent with current trends in the e-business market. "IBM is wise not to take everything on itself," he says. "Equifax is an expert in handling sensitive data."

IBM's Vault Registry uses encryption and digital signature technology to safeguard stored data and applications. The solution -- which consists of both client and server components at a cost of approximately $115,000 -- acts as a flexible registration application to register and certify users for access to sensitive documents, services and business applications over the Internet. The software uses encryption for isolating data and applications by responsibilities and roles -- including protection from unauthorized system administrators and operators. Using digital certificates for authentication and access control, data is protected in special areas of memory against unauthorized access.

Vault Registry's server component runs on the AIX platform, while the client side can be used on either AIX or NT. While there are currently no "firm" plans to port Vault Registry to the AS/400 or mainframe platforms, "if the customers' wants and needs are there, IBM is compelled to make the port if and when the customers are ready," Fitzpatrick says.

Equifax, a company whose background is in the credit verification and reference checking business, will provide the services that facilitate electronic commerce, according to Jeff Johnson, senior VP for electronic commerce at Equifax. Digital Certificate Services address one of the greatest concerns about e-business - security.

"You don't have the chance to see your trading partner face-to-face during [e-business] transactions," Johnson says. The solution is to provide a method of data encryption and authentication. Though the e-business market is still in its "infancy," Johnson points out that the concept of a vault structure is a powerful one.

IBM plans to integrate Vault Registry with its existing Registry for SET (Secure Electronic Transaction) product, Fitzpatrick points out. Registry for SET issues electronic certificates in situations where SET compliance is required. Vault Registry, however, issues general electronic certificates -- those that do not require SET protocol.

IBM expects its Vault Registry solution to fill a need in three separate capacities, he explains. First, a company can use Vault Registry to authenticate certificates for its own employees - to be used for employees logging on to an intranet to check tax or 401k information, for example. "Vault Registry provides the technology that ensures the isolation of employee-specific data," Fitzpatrick says.

In its second capacity, Vault Registry can either enable companies to authenticate and validate the credentials of business partners, or enable companies to entrust this task to a third party, such as Equifax. Finally, Vault Registry technology is designed to enable trusted third parties to manage the entire process, including all data in an isolated environment, also known as a vault controller or vault server.