USPS to unveil details of new services
- By Colleen O'Hara
- Jul 21, 1996
Certificate authority and electronic postmarking on the horizon The U.S. Postal Service later this month is expected to release details on its plans to conduct market tests for its certificate authority and electronic postmarking services.
The Federal Register will publish for comment an announcement on what will be involved in the market tests - which will involve vendor and federal agency partners and take place later this year - as well as the purpose of the programs and how they will work.
Loren Smith, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at USPS, said the announcement will establish protocols on how the agency's public key/private key certificate authority would be established.
"It would allow a generic communication in how the hand-off would happen," he said.
USPS is working toward a certificate authority system, but its electronic postmarking service will likely be available first. In fact, a pilot test is already scheduled for the fourth quarter of this year, Smith said.
The postmarking service would put a time and date stamp on an electronic document and digitally sign it. In this case, USPS would hold the public key that verifies the electronic document is from the private key holder.
Smith said the Energy Department has expressed interest in using the USPS service to authenticate its compliance reports, the Commerce Department wants it to better handle procurement documents such as purchase orders, and the Internal Revenue Service is looking at it for filing tax returns.
"To do electronic postmarking the way we would do it, you need a public [or] a private key, and you can get them from a certificate authority. In this case, you need one of each," said John Cook, program manager for the electronic postmark program at USPS. "The next step is certificate authority."
For its certificate authority service, there are three levels of certificates, Cook said. A basic certificate can be applied for on-line, over the Internet. A certified certificate, the second level, is backed up by personal identification, such as a driver's license, and a biometric certificate would require a user to hook up a device to a computer and take a biometric test each time the certificate was used.
According to Lynn McNulty, president of McNulty & Associates, USPS has "been somewhat quiet of late" with its plans; some action was expected by now. There has been more talk about USPS' trusted electronic postmark service than its certificate authority plans, he added, representing a "subtle change" in emphasis for the agency.
However, McNulty said he believes USPS is uniquely positioned to be a certificate authority.
"I think they will make a viable certificate authority, particularly in situations where citizens are interacting with the government," he said.
"We've got something that proves the concept," according to a source familiar with the electronic postmarking program. "We can't just use a closed system called [the Defense Message System]. USPS may be the glue that pulls that all together."