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Bellcore Says It Has Time-Stamp To Protect Records, Settle Patent Disputes

November 20, 1990

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) _ Bellcore researchers say an electronic ″notary public″ they developed can tighten electronic security systems by proving when a document was created and whether it has been altered.

Customers could submit any type of document electronically for time- stamping under the Bellcore time-stamping service, or the TSS.

Computer experts said Monday that no electronic security system is impenetrable, but they say if the TSS works as touted, it will be the most secure system of its kind.

″With other computer security systems, you can’t maintain the level of security that they claim you can maintain here,″ said Paul Zorfass, director of computer research at the Yankee Group in Boston. ″It sounds like something that would have great appeal to individuals who have a careful requirement for control.″

As technology has advanced and more records have been computerized, such security systems have become high-priority items for businesses and researchers.

″If you have an important researcher, you have a situation where a notary public stamps his notebook, say every two weeks,″ said Scott Stornetta, a research scientist at Bellcore who developed the system along with Stuart Haber. ″What this is, is an electronic notary public.″

The system will be installed at Bellcore’s headquarters in Morris Township within the next six months for testing, he said. The company has applied for a patent and will probably license the product soon after the patent is granted, Stornetta said.

Bellcore provides research and other technical support to the companies of Ameritech, Bell Atlantic, BellSouth, NYNEX, Pacific Telesis, Southwestern Bell Corp. and U.S. West.

Costs have not been determined, but Stornetta said the electronic security program would be within a range acceptable to virtually anyone who needs such a device.

In the case of an invention, a company could submit a description of the product while still keeping the idea secret from the TSS, Stornetta said.

That would be done by sending only a small representation of the original document to the time-stamping service. A mathematical process called hashing would be used to create a ″digital fingerprint″ that represents the entire data. Changing even one character in the original text would change the digital fingerprint, showing that the document had been altered.

Bill Garvin, a product manager at Computer Associates in Garden City, N.Y., said Bellcore appears to be improving an already existing security system.

Computer Associates, a leader in the electronic security field, already has a system called CA-EXAMINE that can detect whether a computer file or program has been altered. What it cannot do is verify when a particular file originated.

″I can see it having use,″ Garvin said, ″but it doesn’t sound like something that would be a head-to-head competitor.″

Bill Strapko, a senior consultant at International Data Corp. in Framingham, Mass., said the Bellcore system will be watched closely by the industry.

″For example, in the area of software, people are saying, ‘I did this before they did,’ and there are all kinds of problems like that,″ Strapko said. ″The time-stamp sounds like it could prove that they did develop something first.″

He cautioned, however, that no electronic security system has been developed that is foolproof.

″If somebody is sharp enough, they can probably go into this system and beat it too,″ Strapko said. ″No matter what security system you have, there is a backdoor into it, unfortunately.″