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A consortium of British and US military agencies and defense and aerospace firms have agreed a new standard for secure email. Security experts are watching the developments closely, but are unsure how much of the specification will make it into public use or commercial email security products.

The secure email specification from the The Transglobal Secure Collaboration Program (TSCP) aims to address email's inherent identity and data transmission security flaws. The specification covers a method for authenticating users that creates a Public Key Infrastucture system that could act as the backbone for other forms of electronic collaboration.

The requirements were defined and endorsed by the members of the TSCP: the US Department of Defense (DoD), UK Ministry of Defence (MoD), BAE Systems, Boeing, EADS, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and Rolls-Royce.

The US Defence Department intends to use the specification to protect "controlled but unclassified information". The MoD also expects to deploy the capability enterprise-wide in 2008 for classifications up to "UK Restricted".

The TSCP implementation is based on TSCP-defined publicly available specifications which organisations must follow to assign vetted identity information to all email senders and recipients. The current implementation was constructed with commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) products, open source software, and a commercial trusted third-party service, CertiPath. The resulting digital certificate-based system ensures that information only travels to and from trusted parties. The framework plugs into either Lotus Notes or Outlook clients.

PKI has long been touted as the next big thing in information security. But the difficulty of putting in such systems and integrating them with other platfors has made the technology complicated and costly. Even though most aspects of the TSCP approach are public, it's unclear how much impact the approach will have in the wider world outside military organisations and their contractors.

"I don't know how much of this will end up public. Certainly I'm interested. And certainly email could use a major security overhaul," security guru Bruce Schneier told El Reg. "People are abandoning the medium in favour of others that are less spam-filled." ®

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