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Technology / AI and automation

GENERAL INFORMATION SYSTEMS IS BANKING ON SMART CARDS

Former managing director of Acorn Computer Group Plc, Christoper Curry, whose personal financial troubles have recently been aired in the public prints, is still trading by virtue of a company he formed 10 years ago, which appears to be flourishing. Cambridge-based General Information Systems Ltd, of which Curry is the non-salaried chairman, develops Smart Card terminals and readers and is now leading a part-European Community-funded project to develop a dedicated RISC processor for Smart Cards. The eight-man outfit, mainly staffed by fellow ex-Acorns who were made redundant when Ing C Olivetti Co SpA took control of Acorn in 1985, has now developed a prototype chip with a 20MHz clock capable of authenticating a 640-bit RSA signature in less than 50mS. It is more secure that the current generation of Smart Cards that use 512-bit addresses and are therefore considerably slower and more vulnerable to attack, said William Orm, project manager for SOSCARD. General Information Systems is currently experimenting with various die sizes from five square millimetres excluding memory, to 25 square millimetres for a large memory microcontroller running multiple applications. The eventual price will depend on the amount of memory on each chip but we hope to produce the highest functionality in the smallest possible package for $3 per processor, said Orm. The company has also developed the security kernel within the processor enabling applications written by banks and telephone companies, for example, to operate independently on the same chip. The rest of the development work has been carried out by The Technical University of Graz in Austria and DigiCash BV of The Netherlands. DigiCash along with Siemens AG and GemPlus SA are also part of another European Smart Card ini tiative, Conditional Access for Europe, which aims to develop digital encryption standards for Smart Cards. The cryptographic protocols that have come out of the project implemented on the processor by DigiCash. The University has developed the cryptographic hardware unit for the processor. General Information Systems is now talking to National Semiconductor GmbH with a view to integrating the processor with its memory technology and undertaking joint marketing of the product. If the deal goes through we are likely to go into full scale production by mid next year, said Orm. In an effort to broaden the market for the product, the company is also trying to strike similiar deals with other silicon manufacturers such as Insight Technology Inc in France.

Smart Card readers

Orm believes that the UK will be the first country in Europe to see the widespread use of Smart Cards which he estimates will happen in 1997. He is therefore talking to Mondex International, National Westminster Bank Plc and APACS, the Association for Payment Clearing Services, to integrate the technology with their cards. Mastercard International and Visa International Inc are also said to be interested in using the technology. The bulk of the companies revenues come from the range of Smart Card readers its sells for point-of-sale terminals and personal computers although if the SOSCARD development project takes off its could reap large profits for General Information Systems. The readers, which cost between ú40 and ú80 each, have sold over 1,000 units in last the 18 months, the company said. A major UK customer has been Mondex International, which is using one of the range for electronic funds transfer in the UK Mondex trials. General Information Systems also designed the Keyline betting terminals used by the UK’s Totalisator Board for central bet validation on-site and wrote a security operating system called Oscar which it licensed to OKI Electric Industry Co, Japan.

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CBR Staff Writer

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