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RSA cosies up to AOL as VeriSign enters token market

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The hardware authentication market is hotting up with VeriSign entering the market. Also announced today is a deal between market leader RSA Security and AOL that extends the technology for the first time.to consumer internet access.

America Online users are to be offered a second level of account protection via the optional use of hardware authentication tokens. SecurID Hardware tokens from RSA Security will give users of the AOL PassCode premium service an automatically-generated supplemental password. The keychain-sized device generates and displays a unique six-digit numeric code every 60 seconds which, combined with their original passwords, enable AOL PassCode users to log onto their accounts.

A deadbolt for AOL accounts

Hardware tokens are widely used in the enterprise market for applications such as remote access login, but AOL is the first ISP to offer optional two factor authentication to consumers, RSA says. Two-factor authentication is offered to e-banking users in Switzerland and Scandinavia - but this is the exception, not the rule. The AOL deal shows how companies are looking for more robust consumer identity protection to guard against ID theft and phishing.

Tim Pickard, strategic marketing director at RSA Security UK, said AOL users who sign up for PassCode could guard against account theft. AOL PassCode could be used to authenticate users to services other than the simple login, in theory, but this is not something that will come with the initial version of the product, he said.

AOL is offering AOL PassCode as a premium service to AOL members for a one time cost of $9.95 for each device, plus an additional cost of between $1.95 - $4.95 per month, depending on the number of screen names that are secured to an AOL PassCode device. The service is available only in the US.

VeriSign launches 'flexible' tokens

VeriSign yesterday announced plans to enter the hardware authentication markets from the end of this month. Its Unified Authentication software and services will be coupled with VeriSign’s new family of tokens to validate user identities.

VeriSign's Unified Authentication service gives users the choice of deploying an in-premise service, or having a hosted lookup service managed by VeriSign (its preferred option). Users who select VeriSign can reduce the cost of deployment strong authentication through using their existing technology investments, including such directory services as Microsoft Active Directory, saving of 25-40 per cent over competitive offerings, according to VeriSign.

But RSA has supplied two-factor authentication products for the last 15 years; so isn't VeriSign entering the market rather late? Not so, says VeriSign in this canned statement. "A growing number of smaller businesses and enterprises that are looking for a simpler, more flexible solution for two-factor authentication - couple that with the growing b2b [business to business] and b2c [business to consumer] requirements for authentication, many would say this is the right time to innovate and reduce the barriers for adoption - cost, complexity and resources required to manage the solutions."

And VeriSign aims to innovate: future tokens will have secure mass storage as well as static password management.

VeriSign Unified Authentication is part of the overall vision of OATH, the Initiative for Open Authentication, which VeriSign and several industry partners announced in February at the RSA 2004 security conference. The idea is to allow buyers to select a mixture of authentication products, knowing they will interoperate. Members of the alliance include Aventail, ActivCard, Aladdin, Gemplus, HP, IBM and Rainbow - but not RSA Security.

Tim Pickard of RSA welcomed VeriSign's debut as indication of potential for market growth. But in RSA's experience, companies and service providers wanted to manage the authentication of users themselves, rather that adopt the broker approach advocated by VeriSign, he said. ®

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