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Security company Baltimore Technologies today announced a "conditional agreement" to sell its core public key infrastructure (PKI) business to US firm beTRUSTed for $5 million in cash.

The sale of Baltimore's 'crown jewels' to BeTRUSTed (which is owned by Bank One's One Equity Partners) effectively winds up the company, analysts say.

In a statement, Baltimore said the planned sale of its PKI business completes its disposal programme. The sale involves the transfer of staff to BeTRUSTed and is subject to shareholder approval - but that is likely to be a formality.

Baltimore recently sold off its SelectAccess authentication, OmniRoot and managed services operations. These, together with the earlier sale of content filtering technologies to Clearswift and other businesses, have left Baltimore as a ghost of its former self.

Baltimore is today valued at around £22 million compared to its peak valuation at the height of the dotcom bubble of £5.5 billion.

Unrestrained optimism that Baltimore's security technologies would become the foundation of an ecommerce boom propelled Dublin-based Baltimore into the FTSE 100 index in the late 1990s. But sales never met expectations and Baltimore's stock price plummeted as its cash reserves dwindled.

So the company was forced into a fire sale.

Baltimore secured a much needed cash lifeline with the sale of its content security business to UK software firm Clearswift Corporation for £20.5 million in January 2001. But the deal represents only a tiny fraction of the £692 million Baltimore paid for Content Technologies at the height of the stock market boom in 2000.

With hindsight, Baltimore's idea to combine encryption with content filtering technology appears fundamentally misconceived. The company would have done better to concentrate on making its core PKI technology easier to deploy, a shortcoming that became a key reason Baltimore's UniCERT PKI technology never went mainstream.

Strategic mistakes alongside the bursting of the dotcom bubble resulted in Baltimore's inexorable decline. Baltimore employed 1,400 workers at its peak but now only has 255 people on its books. The disposal of its core PKI business is seen by some as the final chapter in the Baltimore story.

"This is kind of the final disposal... this is the end, really," analyst Barry Dixon of Davy Stockbrokers in Dublin, told Reuters. ®

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