July 9, 2003 9:00 PM PDT

IBM, Adobe boost digital signatures

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IBM has announced a partnership with software maker Adobe Systems on Thursday to boost security in documents created with Adobe's Acrobat software.

Forms and other documents created in the portable document format (PDF) used by Acrobat will be able to tap into the security chip included on all recent IBM desktop and notebook PCs. Among other purposes, IBM's "embedded security subsystem" can be used to store the electronic signature data, providing an extra level of security over more typical systems that store signatures on a PC's hard drive.

"The fundamental value of that security chip is that it can be used to create a secure repository on that PC to protect any kind of information...including digital signatures," said Stacy Cannady, product manager for client security at IBM. "If you put that kind of information on the hard drive somewhere, there's a possibility people can find it and steal it. If you use the security chip, it's the same thing as picking up that chip and taking it with you."

Adobe has added a wealth of new interactive features to the new version of Acrobat, including support for adding digital signatures to forms and other PDF documents.

Electronic signatures can eliminate the need for creating a paper version of a document, allowing for faster and more efficient transmission of data. Businesses and governments are likely to be leery of using electronic signatures, Cannady said, unless they can be assured of their validity.

"Companies really do understand there's money to be made using electronic business techniques...but they're afraid of digital identity theft and the fraud that can make possible," Cannady said. "We think approaches like our security chip will make companies more confident about using digital signatures."


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