Netscape has been granted permission by the US government to export 56-bit encryption technology.
This follows companies such as IBM, RSA, Digital, Cylink and Trusted Information Systems receiving government approval to incorporate 56-bit encryption in their exported software. So far, Microsoft does not have a 56-bit encryption export licence.
"This puts us very much ahead of Microsoft," claimed Sam Sethi, marketing manager at Netscape UK.
The licence is the first step in Netscape's proposed plans to export encryption of up to 128-bits. Previously, the company was restricted to incorporating 40-bit encryption in its products for international sale, with stronger encryption only available within the US and Canada.
Now the US Commerce department has granted export licensing, versions of the forthcoming Communicator client and the SuiteSpot server range will feature 56-bit encryption. Netscape claims this will give its worldwide customers higher levels of security on their corporate intranets and in Internet transactions. The company expects to begin releasing 56-bit encryption within the next few months.
Netscape's encryption adheres to the government's "key recovery" stipulations, whereby part of the encryption key is available to the US government on issue of a court order. Key recovery will be incorporated into Netscape products within two years, as part of its plans to move to 128-bit security.
"This is an important milestone for increasing security on global networks," commented Taher Elgamal, chief scientist at Netscape. But the company's legal counsel, Peter Harter, added that he still wanted the US government to go further.
"Netscape continues to believe legal reform is necessary, otherwise US corporations will remain at a competitive disadvantage," he said.
Netscape's roadmap for encryption has three further phases. In the first instance, the company would like to give financial institutions 128-bit server products to communicate with their customers, enabling US companies to establish global intranets. Under the next part of the plan, Netscape would obtain government approval to export 128-bit client software to link up with the servers. Finally, Netscape would petition the US government to allow approved foreign companies to use the 128-bit server products.
The Law: Dept of Commerce The US Commerce Department, responsible for approving IT companies' applications for encryption export licences, is forming a committee to advise on encryption policy. To be called the President's Export Council Subcommittee on Encryption, the group will have 25 members drawn from state and local law enforcement agencies and the private sector.
However, a spokeswoman said the panel will not have the power to debate current policy, but merely advise on its implementation.
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