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A View from the House

Last week, in a speech to introduce the launch of the Quizid authentication solution at The Houses of Parliament, I argued that the continued absence of a universal trust system presents a risk to the continued development of eGovernment and the knowledge economy.

Downing Street’s declared objective is that by 2005, the transformative impact of joined-up-government and with it, the availability of cheap and universal broadband Internet access, will, as a by-product, swiftly create the climate for a knowledge economy. But before this can be delivered, we need to have in place a new architecture of trust to support it and this demands an irrefutable and totally secure means of proving one’s identity over the Internet; cheap, available digital identification for every citizen and every business in the land.

Enter Quizid, which has introduced the first and arguably cost-effective security system for the consumer market, a digital identity, that combines its credit-card-sized security token (the Quizid Card), which dynamically generates unique authentication key, with a state-of-the art authentication centre (the Quizid Vault - where authentication key codes sent by partners companies are validated.

Richard Barrington, Director of Industry at the Office of the e-Envoy who spoke at the same launch event, conceded that "The digital certificates market has so far failed to deliver robust certification that meets government needs," and added that the “Quizid scheme would allow government to leverage what industry is doing”, remarking that “The Quizid cards provide authentication without loss of privacy”.

This architecture of trust that concerns both government and industry isn’t a mystery and is already built into the many standards that support digital signatures. Government has quite correctly encouraged industry to develop the initiatives that will allow us to carry out digital transactions with something rather more secure than a PIN number or a password but industry as Richard Barrington suggests, has failed to live-up to expectations and instead of a single solution, has created a number of small islands which have bought us no closer the goal. This failure rather begs the question of whether, as a nation, we should be looking for a single and absolute, end-to-end solution from the beginning or do we lower our sights and deal with the challenge of authentication first, using a solution like Quizid, which supports US standard FIPS-140 crytpo-technology.

Two weeks ago, the UK arrived at a watershed with one million broadband Internet users. Twenty million homes and almost half the population are now regularly using the Internet and what we describe as eCommerce and eGovernment are now rather more than ‘Cool’ and are perceived instead as the pillars of the so-called new economy. Millions of us own “chipped” Smartcards, issued by the banks and credit card companies in a world of virtually no Smartcard readers. Instead we use the lowest form of personal security, passwords, frequently our mothers maiden names, for many of our most sensitive on-line transactions. In fact, few people realize that many of the UK’s online banking systems share the same Internet security technology as the Lego online toy store.

Without a strong authentication solution in place, be it Quizid’s or anyone else’s, the continued absence of a universal architecture of trust, in conjunction with very real risk of expensive failure, threatens the credibility of the Government’s programme and with it, any hope of building a true knowledge economy at a time of threatening recession. Its action that’s needed, not excuses. We’re either an online society or we're not and without a readily available authentication capability, more elaborate than a simple password or PIN number, we are most definitely not in danger of becoming the first world knowledge economy that I imagined two years ago.

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