Comtrust introduces mobile PKI products

Etisalat’s e-business unit has launched its mobile Public Key Infrastructure technology to the UAE as it looks to increase usage levels for digital certificates among large enterprises.

  • E-Mail
By  Matthew Southwell Published  September 28, 2003

|~||~||~|Etisalat’s e-business unit, Comtrust, has introduced a mobile Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) product to the UAE. Called PKI over Smart Card, the authentication offering allows users to keep the private key part of their PKI solution on a smart card and use it any device connected to a compatible smart card reader. In the past, users were typically limited to using PKI solutions from the PC on which their keys resided.

“PKI is not mobile in nature. When one applies for a digital certificate it is done from a browser from a PC. The private key then stays on the PC while the public key is sent to the certification authority (CA). Although users can move their private key to another PC, it is a longwinded process and can be insecure,” says Tariq Habib, senior manager for business & technology at Comtrust.

“However, with PKI over Smart Card we have enabled users to be mobile because their [private] keys are stored on the smart card rather than the PC. This means the potential security compromise is managed, which in turn will give users confidence,” he adds.

The Comtrust solution comprises a smart card, a smart card terminal (reader/writer), smart card management & administration software and a digital certificate. According to Habib, it has already been implemented in some local government entities and financial institutions.

“Emirates Bank International (EBI) is using it and on the government side there are some ministries using it. The Department of Civil Aviation and Dubai Municipality are also using it as part of Etisalat’s B2B initiative, which allows them to view consolidated billing information,” he says.

Beyond the finance and government sectors, the security solution is initially being aimed at the UAE’s enterprises and those companies that are already trading over the internet.

“The main beneficiaries of this will be businesses and large enterprises who see value in authenticating their staff online. Therefore, in the short term at least, the target market will be enterprises that are either transacting online now or have projects to do so in the pipeline,” says Habib.

“However, in the long term, we expect consumers that transact online for any service to use them as well,” he adds.
Just how well the solution is received remains to be seen. While most things mobile are rapidly adopted within the Emirates, PKI has had a mixed response since Comtrust introduced the technology three years ago.

In fact, despite the fact that the Etisalat e-business unit recently reported over a 500% growth in the use of PKI within the UAE, the number of solutions sold has only recently topped the 100 mark. Furthermore, there has been even less market penetration for consumer side solutions.

“More users is definitely a target, but there have been problems in terms of a lack of solutions that deliver business benefits to a user,” says Habib. “A lack of business applications, technical complexity and a lack of confidence have held PKI back in the past,” he adds.

However, Habib believes uptake will increase with the introduction of PKI over Smart Card because users have more confidence in tangible products than virtual digital certificates.

”We have taken a lot of technical complexity out of the hands of the user. Packaging it all onto a smart card that is physical and can be seen gives users confidence because there is something holding that information, rather than it being stored in some virtual place,” he says.

“The user knows that unless someone has the smart card and the pin number then there is no way anyone can assume his or her identity.”

Other factors, such as the growing number of government e-services being made available in the UAE and the growing enthusiasm for e-business solutions in general, also mean Habib is confident that adoption will increase rapidly in the not too distant future.

“Now that there are applications available and as things like e-government drive awareness, the use of PKI will grow. The advent of mobile PKI will also encourage users to sign up too,” he predicts.||**||

Add a Comment

Your display name This field is mandatory

Your e-mail address This field is mandatory (Your e-mail address won't be published)

Security code