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IRS Chooses VeriSign in Digital Signature Pilot

In the not-too-distant future April 15 may become paperless with Web browsers replacing the printed 1040 form.

VeriSign, Inc. announced it won a $433,510, two-year contract with the Internal Revenue Service, to furnish the U.S. government's Electronic Tax Administration (ETA) with public key infrastructure (PKI) and digital certificate solutions that will enable tax filers to digitally sign their electronic returns.

Currently, taxpayers who submit returns electronically also need to file a hard copy with a handwritten signature in order to authenticate the return. If this pilot is successful, the IRS will recognize digital certificates as a form of identification equal to the written signature.

VeriSign uses digital certificate solutions to safeguard information and transactions over the Internet. The certificates are encrypted software files that identify users when they are engaged in an online transaction.

The pilot program, which is slated for an October launch, will incorporate VeriSigns digital certificate and PKI infrastructure in tax-filing applications from pilot program partners Intuit, the tax software provider and UWI.COM, an Internet forms maker. The aim is to reduce or eliminate paper-based signatures, increase the number of e-filers, and lower the cost of paper processing.

VeriSign's OnSite technology will allow the government to expedite a fully operational PKI to establish itself as a certificate authority (CA). The company said the certificates serve as non-forgeable electronic identity badges for users to access government services and benefit information on-line.

In addition, confidentiality and authentication of internal and external communications including e-mail, electronic form, and a broad variety of other applications are provided.

The program will consist of two phases: in Phase 1, VeriSign said it will assist the IRS in the evaluation of technologies for using PKI in e-filing. The pilot will feature IRS employees testing signature-based secure e-mail. Phase 2 will expand the PKI technology, with more IRS-employee testing. VeriSign said the IRS ETA PKI pilot will be available for the 99 tax filing season.

Among other competitors, VeriSign said it beat out rival Entrust for the IRS contract. The company also said it has contracts with 13 other government agencies.

"The IRS joins a growing number of corporate and government customers choosing VeriSigns enterprise PKI solution to secure their Intranet, Extranet and Internet business applications," said Nick Piazzola, VP of VeriSign's Federal Markets Division.