Encrypted Email For Finns, Swedes, Danes
by Sami Kuusela
4:43 pm PST 23 Jan 97 - While keeping a watchful eye on the emerging
American encryption policy, Scandinavian countries are embarking
on a joint project to implement the first international email security
Nordic Post Security Service (NPSS) - involving Finland, Norway,
Sweden, and Denmark - hopes to provide secure email, and
officials say that soon every Nordic citizen can walk into the
nearest post office and sign up for it.
But no matter the success of the secure email system, the NPSS
project is a clear sign that, unlike the United States, Northern
Europe is moving forward with exporting encryption technology
across national barriers.
"Finnish policy has not been to start with regulations and fear of
Net issues," says Anu Lamberg, the head of the Information
Network Unit in the Finnish Ministry of Transport and
Communications. "The American discussion on this matter has
been funny to watch, but I hope nobody in Europe or Finland starts
to question the very basics of democracy."
Based on PGP, with no "third-party" key holder, the Nordic system
uses unbreakable RSA-algorithm encryption with a 1024-bit key.
However, some hardware is required. Because the key is on a
smartcard, users must have smartcard readers installed on their
computers, which aren't yet widely available. But Pdr Andler of
Finnish Hewlett Packard says that later this year, smartcard readers
will become standard on computers in Scandinavia. "It is a really
big help for users, who don't have to remember dozens of
passwords when using different kind of services," Andler says.
The project has been moderately successful in Finland - the first
Nordic country to offer the secure email - as the system isn't any
more difficult to use than a standard email program. All the user
has to do is click "send."
For project developers, using strong crypto was never an issue.
"From the very beginning we've been basing this on strong crypto,"
says Vesa-Pekka Moilanen, technical director for Finland Post, and
mastermind of the email project. "At first, the customers are going
to be mainly professionals," he says, "but quite soon private
individuals will start using it." But the use of secure email probably
won't be widespread until 1998 - if then.
"If strong crypto is banned it's going to have major effects on the
development of information society," says Risto Siilasmaa, the
CEO and president of DataFellows, one of the only makers of
encryption programs in Finland. The Finnish government awarded
DataFellows "most innovative company" honors in 1996. "But
nobody is going to limit strong crypto. I haven't met a single
leading Nordic official who says otherwise."
One question, though: What if a Nordic citizen enters the United
States with the email program installed on his or her laptop? For
now, Nordic officials are only beginning to contemplate the
Once a new technology rolls over you, if you're not part of the steamroller, you're part of the road . Stewart Brand
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