NFC at center of authentication

The Agriculture Department's National Finance Center is positioning itself to serve other government agencies as a trusted source for electronic transaction authentication services.

The National Finance Center provides more than 120 agencies with financial and administrative systems and services. Because of the sensitivity of the information the center deals with, it has long been working on security measures, including implementing a public-key infrastructure from Entrust Technologies Inc.

Using PKI, the center in 1999 established itself as a certification authority, able to issue and manage digital certificates that can store user authentication and authorization information.

NFC is represented on the Federal PKI Steering Committee and the board of the Federal Bridge Certification Authority, the mechanism developed to allow agencies' certificates to interact on a governmentwide basis.

Because of this work and the center's long role supplying trusted services to other agencies, "we're offering to be a certificate authority for our clients," said Kathleen Sharp, senior computer specialist with the center, at the Entrust SecureSummit 2001 conference in San Diego on Monday.

Agencies that need to offer certificates to internal and external users can rely on the center's certificate authority to issue and manage those certificates.

This month, NFC completed its offering of both mid- and basic-level assurance certificates, and the department is planning to add high-assurance certificates for more sensitive transactions, Sharp said. To take advantage of the offering, agencies that already have a relationship with NFC would simply have to amend their memorandums of understanding, she said.

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