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Microsoft has signed a wide-ranging deal to incorporate RSA encryption technology into its applications and services.

The agreement, announced today (without financial details, is pitched as a key component in Microsoft's Trustworthy computing push.

The first initiatives will centre on Microsoft's licensing of RSA SecurID two-factor authentication software and RSA Security's development of an RSA SecurID Software Token for Pocket PC.

This will allow Windows Pocket PC-powered devices to function as RSA SecurID authenticators, so eliminating the need for users to carry separate hardware tokens. Used in conjunction with RSA ACE/Server authentication management software, RSA SecurID authenticators positively identify users and prevent unauthorised access to networks and systems. The technology is typically, and widely, used for remote access log-ins to corporate mail servers and secure sites.

RSA Security has given Microsoft a license for the RSA ACE/Agent component of its two-factor authentication software, allowing Microsoft the option of directly integrating the RSA SecurID agent into Microsoft applications. The next enhancement of Microsoft's Internet Security and Acceleration (ISA) Server 2000 will be the first to feature this capability.

ISA Server, Microsoft's first security product, is positioned against enterprise software firewalls. Security professionals expressed sceptism about the produt but then again many careers are based on fixing security holes which Microsoft overlooked.

Passport stamped

Last, and perhaps most ambitiously, RSA today announced a strategic relationship with software developer iRevolution to provide two-factor authentication to Microsoft Passport.

The two firms are developing technology designed to allow "Passport users to sign-on using RSA Mobile software to provide stronger and more secure authentication". RSA Mobile software uses mobile phones and the SMS (short messaging service) infrastructure to quickly deliver one-time access codes to end users for secure entry into Passport enabled sites.

This is a real head spinner and we'll only scratch the surface on at this pass. First, Passport was never designed with two factor authentication in mind, so will Microsoft have to revisit the whole concept? Second, and easier to address, aren't SecureID access codes supposed to change every 30 seconds - less than the time it might take to receive an SMS message and then type in the relevant code?

The mind boggles.

In any case, the relationship with Microsoft is a real fillip for RSA Security, which in recent years has struggled to build sales in the becalmed Public Key Infrastructure market. Now it's a Web access management company, clearly tied into Microsoft's .Net vision - even to the extent of signing up wholeheartedly to Passport, its flakiest component.

The announcements came during RSA Security's conference in Paris this week. ®

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