SecureKey Technologies hires new CEO as two of the federal government’s biggest departments prepare to deploy its cloud-based credential broker service

Canadian secure ID company set to expand

A new chief executive officer is set to take over a Canadian secure authentication startup next month as it prepares to expand internationally and the federal government readies to expand the use of its cloud-bases service.

SecureKey Technologies Inc. said Friday that Charles Watson, former executive vice-president of secure smart card reader and chipmaker Inside Secure has been hired as CEO and will start in August.

The move comes two months after Toronto-based SecureKey announced a $30 million round of funding led by Intel Capital, the venture investment arm of Intel Corp. Other investors included the vencap arm of Rogers Communications, Telus Corp., Visa Inc. MasterCard and Discover Financial Services.

In January Intel Corp. announced it had inked a deal to put SecureKey’s technology in upcoming Ultrabook laptops using the Ivy Bridge chipsets as part of its Identity Protection Technology.

SecureKey founder and chairman Greg Wolfond (pictured) said some of the $30 million enabled the company to hire Watson and allow him to step back to become executive chairman.
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SecureKey makes a credential brokerage services for governments and businesses allowing the use of bank or credit cards with security chips for universal personal authentication, rather than have customers set up a different account – and remember a different password — at each institution.

The idea is to take advantage of smart chip-enabled credit and bankcards that have Near Field Card (NFC) technology. NFC cards allow users to tap the card on a smart reader either in an Intel laptop or attached via a USB cable on their laptops, enter a password, and have the credential accepted.

Wolfond said the hiring also comes on the eve of the most prominent use of the brokerage service at two of Ottawa’s highest profile departments: Service Canada, the federal government’s one-stop site for accessing a wide range federal benefits including Social Insurance, and, in the fall, Canada Revenue Agency.

Last November the federal government announced that SecureKey’s technology will be offered by all departments that serve customers online.

Several departments are already using the service, linked to the Bank of Montreal, TD Bank and Scotiabank.

In use, a person needing to be authenticated to access a service would be directed to a Web site that will give the option of authenticating through the person’s existing bank or credit card company. The user enters (or swipes) their card, enters their password and the system validates the identity.

Wolford explains that the platform depends on the encrypted smart chips being increasingly included on bank and credit cards, chips that are “really strong. They’re hard to copy.”

He didn’t say what SecureKey charges customers for the service, but said governments can save hundreds of millions of dollars in call centre and password administration costs.

Essentially the brokerage services relies on the identity authentication done by banks and credit card companies. Meanwhile users are likely to prefer using cards from these sources, along with the passwords they are familiar with, as a single security source rather than have to create new passwords for every organization they have contact with.

SecureKey customers – governments and businesses – don’t retain or have access to the identity information, Wolfond said.

Wolfond is an entrepreneur who has co-founded and sold several companies. Among them was Footprint Software, a maker of financial applications for banks, sold in 1995 to IBM; and 724 Solutions, a maker of messaging solutions for wireless carriers, which went public in 2000. After the market dropped three years ago, 724 Solutions was bought by California-based Mobixell Networks in January 2010.

Wolfond said he and several former 724 Solutions staff began working on the concept behind SecureKey in 2007.

“How you do identity on the Internet has been a problem forever,” he said. “There’s no way to know who you are.”

SecureKey’s approach of leveraging NFC, he said, could “wipe out fraud.”

He noted that several provinces are looking at embedding smart chips in drivers licences and healthcare cards.
 
Wolfond, who had been CEO, said he’ll now concentrate on working with SecureKey customers and making sure the company’s technology is the best. He added he’s not thinking about the next company he’ll create, nor selling or taking SecureKey public.
 
“We’re still building the business, so we’re not looking at exit plans right now. We think we’re in the right place in how to solve this problem of identity and authentication for banks, for telcos, for governments. We think its still early days for building out that business.”</div
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