NEC banking on Internet to advance use of smartcards

NEC banking on Internet to advance use of smartcards
Richard Ball The Internet will be one of the driving forces behind future uses of smartcards, says NEC. The company is expanding its smartcard division to develop public key cryptography cards aimed at Internet commerce and pay-TV applications. “Today’s smartcards are based on private key systems. This is feasible in limited environments but not for electronic commerce over the Web,” said Jean Fran?ois Chouteau, manager of NEC’s French smartcard application centre. Applications such as pay-TV and Internet commerce will force public keys to be used, because secure distribution of private keys is not possible. Over 90 per cent of today’s smartcards are based on private key technology. By 2003, Chouteau thinks that nearly three billion smartcards will be produced each year, of which one billion will be for public key systems. But public key smartcards need more processing power. “Private keys are easily realised by software on an 8-bit CPU. A public key system would take several minutes to compute on the same CPU,” Chouteau explained. The company’s application centre has licensed a co-processor from Israeli R&D company Fortress U&T. Dubbed a modular arithmetic processor (MAP), essentially a large multiplier, the processor has already been licensed by SGS-Thomson and Motorola. NEC, says Chouteau, is using an updated version called SuperMAP which can compute several public key systems including RSA and the more advanced elliptic curve algorithms. “RSA usually needs 1,024-bit keys for reasonable security. With elliptic curves you could go to perhaps 180-bits for the same level of security,” he said. This would either speed up the system or allow higher levels of security from the same card. The extra silicon needed for the co-processor only adds 20 per cent to the die, said Chouteau.


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