Holding company, StepNexus, readies the OS for broader application
By Erik Peterson, Contributing Editor
At the close of 2005, Keycorp Ltd. united with Hitachi Ltd, MasterCard International and Oak Hill Venture Partners in a joint venture to develop the MULTOS smart card operating system (OS). Keycorp’s 18 percent stake in the new company amounts to $2.41 million. Hitachi will also take an 18 percent stake, MasterCard is set for 20 percent and Oak Hill will provide the remaining 44 percent.
The focus of the new company is the continued development of MULTOS (www.multos.com), a multi-application, open source and high security OS for smart cards. MULTOS was initially conceived for Mondex International’s electronic purse technology. MasterCard acquired Mondex and the MULTOS OS in 1996 but handed over the responsibility for MULTOS development to the MAOSCO consortium, a group of smart card and chip companies developing MULTOS compliant products. MasterCard, however, maintained ownership of the original MULTOS intellectual property.
From its inception, MULTOS was designed for use with financial cards. Over the years, however, its use in non-financial applications grew. A November 30 press release suggested that expansion into these other markets could be expedited through the new ownership. It is likely to result in increased financing for development – obviously because of the venture investment but also because two of the partners (Hitachi and Keycorp) have extensive product portfolios that rely on OS. Any company would be more willing to fund a technology in which it has ownership, then one with IP owned by another.
StepNexus is born …
The new holding company will be called StepNexus (www.stepnexus.com). “STEP” is an acronym for Secure Trusted Environment Provisioning and “‘Nexus’ refers to the Trust Centre that provides the key management for Secure Trusted Environment Platforms such as MULTOS smart cards and other new environments that will be announced in the near future,” according Tim France-Massey, MULTOS’ VP Smart Card Marketing & Business Development.
Although the holding companies’ four partners own the intellectual property rights to MULTOS, Mr. France-Massey says “changes to the MULTOS OS specification continue to be managed as an open standard by the 15 members of the MAOSCO consortium as it was before.”
The new company, with offices in San Francisco, Washington D.C. and Asia, will assume management of the MAOSCO consortium and will explore new markets for MULTOS such as transit systems, identification cards and electronic passports.
“Right now the biggest growth areas are in finance with our new ‘MULTOS step/one’ product for EMV migration and in the identity space for national ID cards and passports,” says Mr. France-Massey. “MULTOS is being used for identity documents by a number of governments,” he adds, “including the Hong Kong Government who is implementing MULTOS for its national ID card project (and) also for its ePassport project.”
What’s in the cards for MULTOS and StepNexus?
It seems that in addition to a life beyond financial cards, MULTOS may have a new life beyond smart cards. “The intellectual property of MULTOS defines not just an OS, but also a trusted mechanism for the secure installation of new application content to secure devices using asymmetric cryptography,” says Mr. France-Massey. “This “StepNexusTM” mechanism can be applied to any trusted environment, whether it be a MULTOS smart card, new trusted smart card run time environments, or completely new secure execution environments such as trusted computing platforms in PCs or PDAs.”