Carriers add registered e-mail

New offerings replace service canceled by Postal Service

Months after the Postal Service pulled the plug on its certified e-mail service, telecommunications companies are offering government users something similar.

Sprint Corp. is touting Registered e-Mail, provided by RPost Inc. of Los Angeles, as a low-cost alternative to a public-key infrastructure. Sprint has added the service to its General Services Administration schedule contract.

Qwest Communications International Inc. of Denver is negotiating the inclusion of RPost service on its GSA schedule contract, executive vice president Zafar Khan said.

'It's a very simple service, similar to regular registered mail,' said Ellen Rhoads, senior program manager in Sprint's GSA schedule office. A sender gets an electronic receipt verifying content and delivery of registered e-mail.

'We haven't had a lot of requests for it yet' because most government users care more about encryption and security of e-mail than about nonrepudiation, she said.

Preference for paper

Although faxes and e-mail have overtaken postal mail in volume, paper documents remain the preferred medium for legal transactions. Three years ago in an attempt to forestall erosion of its business, USPS joined with Canada Post and France's La Poste to add accountability to electronic messaging.

USPS' Post Electronic Courier Service required customers to upload documents to a secure Web server. Recipients got e-mail notification of a document's availability, along with a tamper-resistant time and date stamp to verify when the recipient accessed it.

PostECS relied on a secure Web server because the security built into Web browsers was more evolved than for e-mail clients. But USPS dropped PostECS in March after consumers failed to show interest.

Sprint's Registered e-Mail also is a hosted service, running on RPost servers, but it verifies the e-mail on its own and does not require any software installation or action by a recipient.

When a Registered e-Mail customer types (R) in the subject line of a message, a filter on the e-mail server routes the message and any attachments to the RPost server. There it is digitally sealed by the Secure Hash Algorithm, a Federal Information Processing Standard that produces a 160-bit message digest to verify contents. The algorithm applies to both the body of the mail and any attachments.

The message then goes to the recipient's mail server, which is monitored for delivery and access data. That, along with the message digest, makes up a receipt that is digitally signed, encrypted and returned to the sender.

About the Author

William Jackson is freelance writer and the author of the CyberEye blog.

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