Digital Signatures Initiated in Costa Rica

August 14, 2009

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OnTuesday afternoon at the Central Bank (BCCR), Presidency Minister RodrigoArias, standing in for flu-stricken President Oscar Arias, was the first Costa Ricancitizen to receive a digital signature card, which serves to protect useridentity and financial information when making online transactions. The digitalsignature, which was created by the National System of Digital Certification,is a plastic card with an imbedded chip that contains

personalstatistics and financial information.

Thedigital signature also includes a personal key code, provided by the Central Bank,which confirms the identity of each user. The code is included in the cardchip, though it is invisible to the naked eye.

Theprimary difference between the digital signature card and a regular credit or debitcard is that, when making an online transaction with the digital signaturecard, the private key code number, which is provided by the bank, is mandatoryin order to make the transaction. The key code number is private, and knownonly by the card owner.

Currently,businesses and institutions lack the appropriate software to conduct transactionswith the card containing the digital signature, though the Finance Ministry andAssociation of Engineers and Architects (CFIA) are at work to permit transactionswith the digital signature in the coming months. The bill to allow for digitalsignatures was first presented to the Legislative Assembly in 2001 and approvedin 2005. However, the creation of the necessary software took more than fouryears.

Accordingto the Central Bank, use of the digital signature would help eradicate bankfraud and credit card theft, which continue to be growing problems with online transactions.

Touse the digital signature card, a user must first obtain a personal key fromthe Central Bank. Then, to make a transaction, the user must insert the cardinto a small card reader, which will cost an estimated ¢40,000 ($67). Thecard-reading device connects to a personal computer through a USB port andverifies the identity of the user. When making the transaction, the private keycode and digital signature card are both needed to validate the user and make asecure transaction.

–Adam Williams

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