Companies are not delaying moves into online trading until the advent of the Secure Electronic Transaction (SET) standard. Instead, many are happy to check out Netscape's Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) technology in order to be at the front of the queue for the ecommerce revolution.
Credit card giants Mastercard and Visa have moulded SET to protect online credit card payments. But it is still in pilot and, despite the perception that SSL is less secure, it is available now, and has the added advantage of being more widely applicable for transferring information other than credit card payments. It is most commonly used with the Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator browsers.
Chris Brown, IT director for transport firm National Express, said: ?We have been using SSL for the best part of 18 months and we have had no problems with security. It is easy to implement and we?d need convincing to use something else."
He added: "The users are happy with it and we have had 50 to 100 per cent growth so that our Web site has paid for itself many times over. Our transactions, however, are on average #30 and you have to tailor the level of security to the level of transaction. But we are now trialling Navigator 4.? The release of Netscape's Navigator 4 browser increases SSL's standard security level from 40-bits to 56-bits.
Sally Taplin, new media manager at bookseller chain Waterstones, had a similar view. ?We will only transfer to SET if it becomes a standard. At the moment it is subject to standard discussions between the banks," she said.
Security is a key issue to be addressed by potential ecommerce users. For reasons of national security the US will not allow the export of strong encryption without a licence. SSL can have 128-bit encryption within the US. Outside, 40-bits has been the maximum, but Navigator 4 has upped this to 56-bits. However, it is possible to have 128-bit encryption in the UK through the import of European security products.
Waterstones use 128-bit encryption. ?We wanted to offer an online service as early as possible,? said Sally Taplin, new media manager. ?There will be many players in the market and it is important to be transactional from day one. Our online sales are increasing 35 per cent month by month as we reach new markets. We would have used 40-bit, but we would have wanted much more testing.?
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