Microsoft has announced the availability of its Smart Card Development Kit and played up the upcoming role of smartcards in providing secure access to corporate IT systems.
"In US [companies], the biggest killer application will be secure network log-on," said Philippe Goetschel, director of security products in Microsoft's Consumer Platform Division, as the Cartes 97 trade show in Paris.
Microsoft's software development kit lets developers create software applications that work with any card or any reader compatible with the Windows platform, said Karan Khanna, product manager of Windows NT server and infrastructure marketing at Microsoft.
Microsoft will support smartcard APIs in the next version of Windows CE, and Windows NT 5.0 will come with an application for secure smartcard log-ons to the network, Goetschel said.
In the US, corporate users will adopt smartcards before consumers use them for electronic commerce, Goetschel predicted. In Europe, where the use of smartcards is much more widespread, Microsoft expects consumers to start accessing online banking services through smartcards within the next 12 to 18 months.
Smartcard use on PCs will get a boost soon, as more hardware vendors build readers into keyboards, Goetschel noted. Currently Hewlett-Packard Co. is one of the few vendors that offers a keyboard with a smartcard reader, but other major PC manufacturers are set to build readers into their products over the next year, Goetschel said.
At a press conference at the Carte show, Microsoft also touched on an agreement it signed last week with Deutsche Telekom AG, and which covers a range of smartcard areas of cooperation between the two companies. Included in the agreement is a possibility for Deutsche Telekom to license WebTV and to use Microsoft's smartcard technology in its Internet services.
Under the agreement Deutsche Telekom will use Microsoft's development kit to create smartcard-based online services, two of which will appear next year.
The first service will let German lawyers exchange encrypted documents with German courts. The service is meant to be a secure means to cut down on the time and cost of transferring documents within the legal establishment. Access to the system will be assured through smartcards. The second scheme, for the medical sector, will let patients transfer information - that a doctor has downloaded to their healthcare smartcard - to their insurance company.