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  1. Technology
January 17, 1994


By CBR Staff Writer

National Semiconductor Corp calls its new encryption chip iPower, and claims that it delivers the highest level of personal portable data security commercially available at low cost, even across unsecured networks, explaining that iPower technology uses an impenetrable hardware-based access card known as a token for securing and processing secret keys and data, and will provide higher levels of security than previously possible for software-only or network-based schemes. The technology is aimed at securing users rather than networks so it can be used on any type of network, whether wired or wireless. The on-board memory and microprocessor architecture support off-line transactions so that it can be used to sell information and software from encrypted CD-ROMs with the charges being levied later, acting at what the company calls an information meter.


The system consists of a 32-bit microcontroller that encrypts and decrypts messages and data and provides support for major encryption standards; impenetrable storage areas for secured items and on-board non-volatile memory for keeping track of user identities, public key certificates for digital signatures, frequently-used block decryption keys, and transaction records. For most applications, 36Kb of on-board storage will be sufficient, NatSemi reckons, bit 20Mb or more of Flash memory could be incorporated on a data access card. The proprietary software elements include a security software architecture and a library of C language iPower routines. The Security Processing Unit chip enables application builders to hide one or more encryption engines, encryption keys, application data and the CPU that processes them, all claimed to be protected from unauthorised read-out or reverse engineering. In PCMCIA format, the data access card can be secured wherever or however a user chooses and if lost or stolen, the token is resistant to the efforts of the most resourceful and determined thieves and hackers. NatSemi did not give prices. National Data Corp of Atlanta plans to use the iPower token card in transaction services, where it says it intends to use it in various electronic commerce applications, including desk-top purchasing for a variety of products and services. It says that the system will be able to check purchasing ability established with its network, and, depending on user activity the system would call National Data’s network to check credit or pre-paid limits and to provide payment information to the service or product provider.

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