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Verisign backs Vista security green streak

Firefox's turn to play catch-up on security?

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The Mozilla Foundation risks losing the browser battle if it fails to keep up with Microsoft by incorporating new security technology into Firefox, a Verisign exec has claimed.

According to Verisign product marketing director Tim Callan, the "loose collection of technoanarchists" which make up the open source development community has frustrated efforts to build new security features into its new browser.

Verisign is at the RSA Europe Conference in Nice talking up a new breed of online security certificate. The padlock encryption symbol used by browsers has been effectively meaningless for some time, and consumer paranoia surrounding fraud remains a barrier to using online commerce for many.

In response, the verification industry in the form of the CA browser forum has come up with extended validation SSL, where the certificate really is a guarantee of kosher status. Honest.

Murphy's law says extended validation will be broken by the bad guys sooner or later. Callan said the industry had learned from the fossilised nature of SSL, and the new standard will be continually updated to keep pace with organised crime. "That's how it goes...I'm not going to lie and say we can beat them with a static defence," he said.

The system is implemented in IE7 by turning the address green for sites holding a extended validation certificate. Redmond is keeping the feature under wraps until the release of Vista in January, when the first wave of extended validation certificates will be issued to the likes of PayPal and Amazon. Along with many others, Verisign are working towards a January 24 release date which was briefly bean-spilled by Amazon on Vista pre-orders.

Callan puts Mozilla's apparent heel-dragging on the new security technology down to the character of its development community. Several community members have been involved in the development process however and are "acutely aware of the most minor details" of the project.

One snarl-up for Mozilla may have been working out an alternative to the rest of Microsoft's site-rating system. As well as getting dishing out green address bars, servers at Redmond will blacklist dodgy and suspect sites, which can look forward to red and amber flashing up.

A Firefox implementation of extended validation can only be a matter of time, since the Mozilla Foundation knows in order to compete it cannot afford for its browser to be just as good as IE7; it has to be better.

Verisign say 99 per cent of sites will be get the "ok" and the address bar left white. Only outfits which fork out for an extended validation SSL will get the psychological filip of "green for go". Firms will have to stump up about 150 per cent of what they currently do for an SSL certificate.

Microsoft-beating security meant the first Firefox browser found its way onto millions of desktops. When Vista finally ships, a big Microsoft public awareness campaign will be aimed at making extended validation a de facto standard, which will pile pressure on Mozilla to update Firefox sharpish. ®

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