NCipher and Broadcom deal on encyption

Chip manufacturer Broadcom and security firm nCipher announced a partnership Tuesday through which Broadcom will integrate nCipher's technology into its products to help secure transactions coexist with content aware networks, the companies said.

NCipher makes, among other things, software designed to accelerate the processing of encrypted data, using PKI (Public Key Infrastructure) and SSL (Secure Sockets Layer). Broadcom makes networking, set-top box, wireless and other kinds of chips. The deal that melds their products will target content-aware devices and networks, devices that are able to determine what kind of content is being sent through them and then route it to the proper destination or device or perform other actions on it.

Encrypted content, a type of data that is becoming more prevalent, poses a problem for content-aware network devices because they are unable to easily decode the content, and therefore don't know what to do with it, according to Richard Moulds, vice president of marketing at nCipher. Content-aware devices must either forgo dealing intelligently with encrypted data or must spend large amounts of time decrypting it, Moulds said. Neither option is ideal, as allowing the data to remain encrypted eschews the value of content aware networks and decrypting it removes the extra security encryption provides, he said.

The deal with Broadcom addresses both of those concerns, however, as the integration of nCipher's software to accelerate security processing into Broadcom's chips will allow content aware devices to intelligently and quickly process encrypted data, Moulds said.

NCipher will license technology to Broadcom, which Broadcom will in turn include in its chips, which will then be sold to device manufacturers, Moulds said. Among Broadcom's customers are such companies as Cisco Systems Inc., 3Com Corp., Motorola Inc. and Scientific-Atlanta Inc.

Work between the two companies has already begun, with products likely set to be released in October or November, Moulds said.

The deal makes sense for both sides is "a nice relationship between a software and a hardware vendor," said Rob Deane, e-security analyst at market research firm Datamonitor PLC.

Both companies will benefit from the deal, as "Broadcom has a much wider customer base (than nCipher) and it's going to allow nCipher to gain much broader market share," he said. Broadcom, on the other hand, will be adding functionality to its products, which will help them sell more chips, Deane said.

Though Deane also sees a strong future for the sorts of applications addressed by the deal, he does see some obstacles for the companies.

The melding of the software and hardware "is not just a drop-in solution, it's going to have to be engineered," he said, adding that this may well be an issue already worked out by the firms.

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