All Your Passwords on a Single Smart Card

With an average user having to remember 15-20 passwords, the time is ripe for a smart card solution

Financial Times USA via NewsEdge Corporation : Technology advances do not necessarily make life easier in the workplace. I, for instance, a frequently confessed technoidiot, have never managed to use a copier properly. The placement of pages - either horizontally or vertically, on the left side or right side always seems to differ, and the copier paper always seems to move just as I lower the cover. In the end, several crushed balls of paper in the trash can bear testament to my attempts to produce one acceptable result.

But there is one product building momentum that even I might manage and which ought to relieve some stress on harried, hurried workers: a "smart card" loaded with password chips and biometric identification systems.

Passwords have not always been the mind bender they are today. Once they required maybe four letters or numbers that could be deployed on the few systems that handled them. Workers now must memorise an average 15-20 passwords each, according to Kent Blossom of IBM Global Services.

Users in particularly sensitive positions and industries must reregister or reformulate their passwords monthly. Not so long ago, passwords stood simply as a bulwark against corporate or government espionage, fraud, identity theft and hackers. With the growth of e-commerce and online banking, passwords proliferated and all seem to demand different formulation requirements. Now, many users are required to dream up memorable words containing numbers and letters as well as obscure punctuation marks.

In 2002, the International Data Corporation estimated that the identification management industry was expanding by 46 per cent a year and was set to reach Dollars 4bn by 2007. "(Usage) is further complicated as companies add or subtract workers, devices, workplace locations, partners or vendors," according to IBM. "In each case, passwords and other protective processes known as 'touch' points are needed for different layers of access, adding to the complexity."

"There are many business drivers of identification management," says John McKeon, direct of security solutions for IBM Global. Collaboration between partnering companies and government agencies has intensified. They are also partnering with their suppliers. "All of them need to be able to trust the people they are letting into their systems," he says. "Everyone wants to create more user-friendly systems."

Fear of terrorism has accelerated the industry's development. The White House recently issued a directive establishing "a mandatory, government-wide standard for secure and reliable forms of identification issued by the federal government to its employees and contractors".

Other regulations - for homeland security, corporate financial activity, healthcare privacy, immigration, and visa authentication - have spurred the search for secure identity solutions.

Companies and government agencies have been investing for the past decade in new technologies to create multifunctional systems. These integrate various security components - ssbiometrics, radio frequency identification or voice recognition technology with smart cards to provide physical or computer access. According to Randy Vanderhoof, head of the Smart Card Alliance, identification management systems are getting faster, more powerful and cheaper.

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