Alternatives to digital certificates considered

E-envoy Andrew Pinder set up working groups late last year to address the slow adoption of digital certificates, but admitted the government must now look at other methods.

‘We hoped digital certificate use would take off more rapidly. The fact is they haven’t. We are looking at alternative methods of providing alternative authentication,’ said Pinder at a Public Accounts Committee.

These include the PIN and password method currently used by the Inland Revenue’s web site for filing tax returns and the use of banking and credit reference agencies to verify user details.

‘We are looking to see if we can partner up with any of these and we have been talking in recent months to potential partners,’ confirmed a spokeswoman for the Office of the E-envoy.

Although the government still sees digital certificates as the ideal method of authentication, it has to keep the options open in case the market fails to take off, she said.

The government estimates 15 to 20% of online government services will need strong authentication or signing.

Just last month Consignia closed down its digital certificate business, ViaCode, due to ‘slow development of the market and the company’s unsustainable financial position’.

That forced the British Chambers of Commerce’s digital certificate service, ChamberSign, for members to cease issuing new certificates until a new technology partner is found.

A report by analyst Datamonitor this week also said user interest in digital certificate and public key infrastructure technology is declining.

‘For PKI, the unexpected problems have meant that many are unwilling to invest in such a complicated technology,’ said the report.

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