Agriculture begins to issue digital certificates

Agriculture begins to issue digital certificates

Although a full-scale public-key infrastructure is not yet in place, the Agriculture Department has begun issuing its first 300 digital certificates for conducting online transactions with the department.

Agriculture chose a 'non-PKI solution,' said Chris Niedermayer, an e-government executive and assistant to the deputy administrator for farm programs. The product is SiteMinder, a secure sign-on application from Netegrity Inc. of Waltham, Mass.

Agriculture will soon assess whether the digital certificates are giving the right level of security for each transaction and, Niedermayer said, whether the technology 'does what it says it will do.' At the E-Gov conference in Washington yesterday, he said the online transactions already available at www.sc.egov.usda.gov needed to be secured because civilian agencies do not yet have a standard PKI.

'The legal requirement is probably the main driver,' he said, referring to the E-Sign Act of 2000.

Farmers and others who want to do business through the department's Web site still must go to an Agriculture office with identification such as a driver's license or passport to get authorization for doing business online.

'Our counsel suggested we needed positive ID before we issued the credentials,' Niedermayer said. 'Then [the contractor's] system handles the credentials.'

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