E-mail encryption program catches on with DOD contractors

E-mail encryption program catches on with DOD contractors

A public-key infrastructure system the Defense Department extended to its contractors'which initially drew a tepid response'is gaining support as more vendors sign on to secure their e-mail messages to agency officials.

Under the DOD Interim External Certificate Authority program, three companies'Digital Signature Trust Co. of Salt Lake City, Operational Research Consultants Inc. of Chesapeake Va., and VeriSign Inc. of Mountain View, Calif.'have been providing the PKI software to protect e-mail communications, work flow and document access between DOD and its contractors.

Contractors download the digital certificates, which range in price from $119 to $150 apiece, into their Internet and e-mail browsers, encrypting messages traveling across the public Internet. While the program, which is internally managed by the Defense Information Systems Agency, is more than two years old, it had elicited a relatively weak response until recently.

'More and more DOD partners are using the service now,' said Rob Carey, e-business leader for the Navy Department.

In December 2001, a few hundred digital certificates were in play. Now, VeriSign alone counts 20,000 certificates. In the last two months, the company said, the number of digital certificates has increased by more than 50 percent, particularly among air and commercial transport carriers, which VeriSign attributes to the war in Iraq.

The adoption rate could shoot even higher once contractors begin playing a bigger role in rebuilding Iraq. 'Today, there's very limited use in Iraq,' said Barry Leffew, VeriSign's vice president for the public sector. 'But it will expand with postwar reconstruction.'

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