REDMOND, Wash, Sept. 19, 2005 — Microsoft today announced it has acquired Alacris, a privately-held software company located in Ottawa, Canada. Alacris provides certificate management and identity assurance technology to help enterprise customers build strong credential authentication solutions into their networks and applications. Microsoft’s goal in making this investment is to enable customers to deploy and manage their strong credential infrastructures more easily and improve the efficiency of their security management processes in the Microsoft Windows operating system. The acquisition of Alacris enhances Microsoft’s strategy of providing easily administered identity and access management solutions, and underscores Microsoft’s commitment to network security. The investment will also bring the benefits of strong authentication technologies, such as smart cards, to a broader range of customers.
PressPass spoke with Conrad Bayer, vice president and CTO of Alacris, and Mike Nash, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Security Technology Unit, to learn more about what the acquisition will mean for customers.
Press Pass: Smart cards have been around for some time now. What has changed, and why did your two companies pursue the acquisition at this time?
Mike Nash, Corporate Vice President, Microsoft Security Business & Technology Unit
Nash: Smart card and other strong credentials are becoming more and more important as organizations increasingly open their networks to customers and partners, in order to increase their ability to collaborate. As this occurs across multiple IT environments, strong credentials are critical to help ensure an organization has greater control over who is accessing information on their networks. Windows currently provides a great platform for utilizing strong authentication technologies on the desktop, through both Active Directory and Microsoft Certificate Services. However, customers are still faced with the complexity of smart card implementation; and Alacris’ products help address these issues. The key to successful smart card implementation is tailoring the infrastructure to the specific needs of the organization. Alacris’ products address this need by delivering integrated solutions that provide simplified management and end-user experiences through advanced policy and workflow. They’ve been a great partner over the past several years with us, and we look forward to these technologies helping Microsoft customers take full advantage of the smart card capabilities currently in Windows.
Bayer: I’d say over the last two years, the enterprise interest in Microsoft Windows Server 2003 and Public Key Infrastructure (PKI), the underlying infrastructure that supports smart cards, has gone up dramatically. Enterprises are now making PKI part of their core security strategy. Several years ago PKI was seen as the utopian solution — “install it and you’ll never have a security problem again.” While PKI is good for some things, such as maintaining confidentiality, it does not stop spam or make spyware go away. Companies who had given up on PKI for these reasons, or who were waiting for Windows Server 2003, now see the opportunity to invest in this space. Organizations are taking it seriously, because there are some identity solutions that only can be solved by PKI and smart cards.
This is the next logical step in the progression of our relationship with Microsoft. Our technology vision has always been around the Microsoft Windows operating systems, even more particularly around Microsoft Active Directory service. What we’ve focused on is delivering a very flexible, configurable solution that extends the capabilities of Windows Server 2003 and Active Directory in ways that fit each customer’s needs. We’ve worked closely over the past several years with Microsoft, both in Redmond and in the field, so this is really exciting news.
PressPass: Where do you expect to see the greatest customer interest around identity solutions and strong credentials in the coming years?
Bayer: Clearly, the efforts of the U.S. government will be a big catalyst. Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12 will require all federal employees and contractors to have smart cards in the next year and a half. Also, the sectors where we already see great usage of our technology, such as banking, insurance, pharmaceuticals and health care, should continue to see needs increase in these areas.
Conrad Bayer, Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, Alacris
Nash: The need for enterprise customers to have a strong identity solution in place is something we’ve been talking about for some time. With this acquisition, we can expand the reach of Alacris and Microsoft technology, not only in the vertical markets that Conrad mentioned, but to a broader range of enterprise customers. Alacris’ unique solutions are designed to simplify and significantly lower the costs associated with digital certificate and smart-card deployment, while helping to streamline both the provisioning and configuration of smart cards. And, the technology also provides Web-based, policy-driven workflow management to help users control administrative and end-user experiences.
PressPass: How will strong, credentials-based security play out in an increasingly mobile world where people use multiple devices to access the Internet, communicate and work?
Bayer: The smart card becomes a single point of identity. You will really have one point of identity that can work across multiple devices. New technologies are emerging, like Bluetooth-based smart card readers, which can talk to mobile devices. We can enable customers to implement various strategies across product or ID life cycles, and which can accommodate mobile devices as well as desktop PCs.
Nash: Many people think of smart cards as solely the credit-card-sized piece of plastic. But certificates and strong PKI that are used in smart cards will come in many forms — a token you carry around your neck while in the office, for example, or a pen that you have in your pocket. We can eventually see the use of proximity smart cards, where if you are away from your desk for a certain period of time, the smart card realizes this and locks down your computer. This is a very robust technology that can be applied in many ways and will serve customer needs for the long-term.
PressPass: What can Alacris and Microsoft customers expect in the coming months?
Nash: This acquisition addresses Microsoft’s overall strategy to provide easily administered identity and access management, to ensure organizations can fully utilize the technologies currently within Windows. We are excited about what opportunities this will bring to our customers and are looking forward to rolling out a beta version of this technology at a future date.
Bayer: At the highest level, when you look at the global reach coupled with the customer and business relationships that Microsoft brings to bear, it’s a huge accelerator. We have been helping clients realize the benefits of certificates and smart cards, but Microsoft can really bring those benefits to a broad audience more quickly, and to a much broader set of audiences, than we ever could. The value we can now bring to that arena with this combined set of technologies is tremendous. Eventually this reaches out beyond the enterprise space to consumers — it just broadens the opportunity. It’s like making the jump into hyperspace.