Microsoft releases beta for digital certificate tool

Certificate Lifecycle Management Beta 2 is out, but experts say the technology is still a solution waiting for a problem.

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Microsoft released Certificate Lifecycle Management Beta 2 today, but IT experts say the uptake of digital certificates and smart cards remains slow.

CLM Beta 2 has a new feature that supports Microsoft's smart card framework to allow developers to write a mini driver that integrates smart cards with the management tool. Also included is an external API feature that lets vendors connect their identity management systems to the tool.

At the RSA Security show in February, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates unveiled the first beta of Certificate Lifecycle Management as a way for IT shops to manage digital certificates -- from configuration and provisioning through authentication and de-provisioning. The final CLM release is due out in the first quarter of 2007.

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Citing analyst research from Gartner Inc. and Frost & Sullivan Inc., John Chirapurath, director of product management, identity and access at Microsoft, said the digital certificate market will reach $1 billion by 2010. "Digital certificates and smart cards are being adopted to gain access to wireless networks, and a lot of the adoption is also anchored in regulatory compliance," Chirapurath said.

Yet analysts and IT experts say enterprises aren't beating a path just yet to digital certificates or tools meant to manage digital certificates and smart cards.

"Uptake is very slow right now," said Jeff Kimmelman, chief technology officer at systems integrator Network & Security Technologies Inc. in Pearl River, N.Y. "Passwords are adequate for most organizations," and client-side digital certificate technology is not quite baked either, making it difficult for users to log onto sites using the technology, Kimmelman said.

"I've only really seen it on a large scale at [Electric Reliability Council of Texas] where anyone who wants to do any electric power work in Texas needs to use digital certificates. But I think it's a bit of an overkill," Kimmelman said. "A SSL Web site with passwords would have sufficed."

Maybe next year

And although every year is earmarked as the year of the digital certificate, the use of such technology remains limited to wireless and VPN authentication, said Paul Stamp, senior analyst with Forrester Research Inc., based in Cambridge, Mass. "Right now it's being used for internal implementations mainly and not for the vision of PKI in the sky where everyone trusts it," he said.

Many of the digital certificate management tools available today are too clunky and cumbersome, he said. That gives Microsoft an opportunity to step in as an entry-level offering as more organizations start to adopt digital certificates and smart cards.

What will help the adoption of digital certificates is the fact that the technology is already built into many things that we already trust and use today, Stamp said. When a Windows application launches, for example, a digital certificate is trusted and Amazon.com uses SSL trusting a digital certificate, he said.

"A lot of the infrastructure is already embedded into things we use today, and organizations increasingly recognize that digital certificates are an answer to a variety of problems," Stamp said.

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