Digital signature deal targets students

The General Services Administration's ACES site

Related Links

Four federal agencies have tapped VeriSign Inc. and AT&T to support the use of digital certificates by students who make transactions online with the government.

Under a task order awarded through the General Services Administration's Access Certificates for Electronic Services (ACES) contract, VeriSign will provide public-key infrastructure consulting and application support for several student-related services available online.

The PKI-enabled services include the Education Department's Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), as well as transactions with the U.S. Postal Service and the departments of Veterans Affairs and Labor.

Students currently must use a personal identification number when filling out FAFSA forms at the Education Department's Web site, but a PIN can be easily forgotten, especially if — as is the case with FAFSA — it's typically used only once a year, said Andy Boots, champion for information security and privacy at the department's Office of Student Financial Assistance Programs.

Digital certificates issued according to ACES guidelines will enable students to fill out FAFSA forms without needing to keep track of PINs and will make conducting business with a variety of federal agencies easier, he said.

"Our vision is enabling students to do business with the federal government," Boots said.

Education officials expect the use of digital certificates to grow as the public becomes more familiar with PKI and its benefits, and Boots said this task order will keep the agency ahead of the curve.

FAFSA forms for the 2001-02 academic year will go online in January, and they may be able to accept digital certificates at that time, he said. If not, they should be ready by spring, he said.

Other online services important to students that will be equipped to handle digital certificates include USPS' change-of-address form and the VA's Web Automated Verification of Enrollment system, which students receiving VA education funding use to let the agency know they're still taking classes. Students can find these services on the Access America for Students Web site (

VeriSign will validate students' digital certificates in real time using ACES' Certificate Arbitration Module, which was developed by AT&T. VeriSign also will issue the certificates, provide renewal and revocation services, and support overall PKI implementation.

AT&T is one of three prime contract-holders under ACES, which GSA launched to provide the technology and services needed for agencies to develop PKI.


  • Defense
    Ryan D. McCarthy being sworn in as Army Secretary Oct. 10, 2019. (Photo credit: Sgt. Dana Clarke/U.S. Army)

    Army wants to spend nearly $1B on cloud, data by 2025

    Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said lack of funding or a potential delay in the JEDI cloud bid "strikes to the heart of our concern."

  • Congress
    Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) at the Hack the Capitol conference Sept. 20, 2018

    Jim Langevin's view from the Hill

    As chairman of of the Intelligence and Emerging Threats and Capabilities subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committe and a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, Rhode Island Democrat Jim Langevin is one of the most influential voices on cybersecurity in Congress.

Stay Connected


Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.