Royal Mail aims to make e-commerce safe for all

The Royal Mail has launched its first electronic communication product, in a break from its 350-year “hard copy” tradition.

Available on CD-Rom for use with Windows 95, 98 and NT, Viacode is an e-commerce security tool providing instant encryption for messages and digital certification of users. Users prove their identity by showing a passport or similar identification to the Royal Mail or an agent of the scheme. A digital identity is then registered.

Viacode is being made available to companies first, which in many cases will establish the identity of their own staff to standards laid down by the Royal Mail.

However, the intention is that in the future, individuals will be able to register their digital identity at Post Offices.

Royal Mail managing director Richard Dykes says “the potential is fairly obvious” for the system (or a future smart card version) to be used for combating benefit fraud.

The ultimate aim, according to Royal Mail director of electronic services Jim Pang, is to make Viacode “the largest public certification authority in the UK, to act as a catalyst to the growth of e-commerce, and to allow organisations and individuals to connect electronically in a secure way”.

The service will cost about 1 per user per month, regardless of the size of the company. It will be marketed through an integrated telemarketing and direct mail campaign.

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