Business in Vancouver: News that works for you

    Local software products helping to blaze the way to secure business dealings on the Internet

    by Alan Zisman (c) 1996 First published in Business in Vancouver ,  Issue #342 May 14, 1996   High Tech Office  column

    It's been a good couple of weeks for a pair of Vancouver software development firms, each of which has found its own niche in the booming Internet market.

    Xcert Software (737-4899) is run by SFU computer scientist Andrew Csinger and twentysomething prodigy Patrick Richard. They've beaten the big guys to market with technology to provide secure, authenticated business transactions on the 'Net. As we've mentioned before, there have been several big barriers to the growth of business on the Internet. First, businesses and individual users are understandably wary of sending private information openly: your Visa number, for example, will pass through dozens of computer gateways between you and your vendor, and could be intercepted at any step.

    As well, you have no way of knowing whether the person you're communicating with is really who he or she claims to be. When identities get blurred in chat rooms or fantasy dungeon games, it's all (more or less) in fun, but for business, we'd all like to be sure that we know the identities of the people we're dealing with.

    Using technology licensed from UBC, Xcert's Software Sentry will provide digital certificates that the company believes could become as legally binding as traditional signatures. These can be integrated, behind the scenes, into Web servers and individual browsers, allowing groups ranging from corporations to clubs to take charge of their own security and to control access to their material. Csinger and Richard hope this can be extended to include automatic billing, allowing advertisers to build rich customer profiles.

    Csinger suggests the new product "will ensure both privacy and authenticity, so the Internet can become a trusted way to conduct business for everyone.

    "Organizations of any size can now benefit from state-of-the-art electronic security," he says. "The Internet will be a whole new world."

    Many predict that the Intranet--private, internal corporate networks--is a potentially larger market. Csinger is hopeful: "If this company is run with half a brain and good marketing, surely we should get one per cent of that [billion-dollar] market, and do exceptionally well."

    A five-day demo version of Xcert Software Sentry can be picked up from on the Internet. Internet giant Netscape has announced similar features for its Netscape Certificate Server, but that product won't be ready until the third quarter of the year, while Xcert's version is available now. (In fact, in its press release, Netscape mentions Xcert--along with Northern Telecom and several other companies--as a Netscape technology partner.)

    One of the uses Xcert sees for Sentry is to enable 'Net sites with adult-only material to ensure that only preregistered, bona-fide adults have access, but Vancouver's Trove Investment Corporation (662-8522) has taken the opposite tack with its 'Net Nanny software, which is aimed at parents and teachers--any adults who feel it necessary to limit access to some areas of the Internet. (Presumably, employers could also use it to limit the sorts of surfing done on company time.)

    Trove Investment, whose shares are traded on the Vancouver Stock Exchange, has been selected by IBM for inclusion on a soon-to-be-released CD-ROM bundle of software that will be provided to purchasers of IBM hardware. 'Net Nanny was selected over a number of competing products, and a "Lite" version of its software will be included on the disc, along with an offer to upgrade to the full version at a discounted price.

    Trove is optimistic that it will benefit greatly from IBM's worldwide distribution and clout, and feels that this selection validates it as a leader in the field. It has plans for a Windows 95 version and a corporate network version, although it might have to find a more grey-flannel name. More about it from http://www.netnanny. com/netnanny

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan