Netscape, VeriSign Team to Proliferate Digital Certificates

Netscape Communications Corp. and VeriSign Inc. ( signed a multiyear agreement to promote secure e-commerce solutions for corporate networks and the Internet. The agreement will launch a number of joint initiatives aimed at increasing public knowledge about Internet security and assisting corporations with secure e-commerce and the use of digital certificate technology.

Terms of the agreement include three major aspects, says Anil Pereira, director of Internet marketing at VeriSign. The first includes a co-branded Web site called the Netcenter Security Center by VeriSign, which was scheduled to debut at the end of March and aims at educating businesses and consumers about Internet security. The Security Center will have links to sub-channels covering topics such as building secure Web sites, Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) and secure messaging. Additionally, if a user at the Netscape portal has questions about security and turns to the help section, "they will automatically be prompted to go the Netcenter Security Center," Pereira says.

The second key term includes a plan to more tightly integrate VeriSign's digital certificate services with Netscape's products. When a user downloads Netscape software or a browser, they will be offered a chance to download a digital certificate. The third main term of the agreement names VeriSign as the premier provider of digital certificate services for Netscape.

Digital certificates are strong forms of encryption that provide authentication and security to important information that is passed over the Internet. The security of certificates can be enhanced by the use of PKI. The certificate is composed of two parts -- one held by the sender, the other held by the recipient. Without both parts the security code is almost impossible to crack. The certificates uniquely identify users and prevent unauthorized access to privileged information. VeriSign was given expanded eligibility to provide 128-bit encryption to online customers such as merchants, says Pereira. Previously, VeriSign could only offer this type of strong encryption to overseas banks. VeriSign will make the 128-bit encryption available to corporate customers at the Netscape Security Center.

One of the main goals of the Netscape-VeriSign agreement is to educate customers about security, Pereira says. The Security Center features a forum to educate users about certificates, and the partners have also integrated digital certificates into the Netscape browser download, simplifying certificate installation.

"In comparison with today's convoluted multiple-screen registration process, integrating the certificate and browser download and installation process makes it a no-brainer for users to get certificates," says Ted Julian, analyst at Forrester Research ( He explains that information about digital certificate technology is not widely known and that both companies have correctly identified the roadblocks to digital certificate adoption.

Although the Netcenter security site is expected to educate many on the value of digital certificates, Julian says Netscape and VeriSign's current approach, "falls short of its full potential." The companies would need to do more to elevate certificate use. For example, fully wiring Netcenter with digital certificates would allow users seamless access to secure e-mail, shopping and electronic wallets -- services VeriSign says it would like to eventually provide. Another example is providing financial liability protection for certificates to ease some of the concerns businesses might have about using digital certificates alone in their e-commerce transactions.