Netscape Boosts Browser Security

Netscape Communications, a subsidiary of America Online, Inc. (NYSE: AOL), is launching an initiative to bring a higher level of security to e-commerce patrons who use its Web browser.

Users of Netscape Communicator version 4.61 can now surf their way to the SmartUpdate service and obtain a significant encryption capability upgrade. The update consists of a single file, which minimizes download time dramatically.

The new security will give Netscape browser users a major upgrade from international-grade encryption (56-bit) to US-grade encryption (128-bit), significantly increasing the safety of e-commerce and enabling online banking and bill-paying activities.

“By providing this easy-to-install security upgrade for Netscape Communicator, Netscape is helping to grow e-commerce and accelerate the use and acceptance of online shopping, banking and trading,” commented Bob Lisbonne, senior vice president of client products at Netscape. “This makes it easier than ever for Netscape Communicator users to enjoy a higher level of online security and ultimately increases our customers’ confidence in e-commerce.”

According to Netscape, encryption bit count refers to the strength and possibility of the technology. Encryption strength of 56-bit means “there are billions of possible keys to decipher the coded information, and only one of them works.” With 128-bit encryption, however, “there are 4.7 billion trillion times as many keys as with 56-bit encryption.”

Addressing Consumer Mistrust

Netscape is responding to a general lack of online consumer trust in e-commerce. Almost two-thirds of online consumers recently polled in a Jupiter Communications survey, for instance, say they are unlikely to trust an e-commerce Web site. Consumers in the Jupiter study added that privacy and security-related policy disclosures won’ t change their minds.

“Security remains the number one concern when conducting transactions over the Internet,” said a Netscape company statement. “With this upgrade, Netscape intends to reduce this barrier, fueling the growth of e-commerce.” Problems persist, however, and occasionally consumer fears are justified.

A Hole In Your Explorer?

Netscape’s notorious chief competitor in the Web browser market — Microsoft and its Internet Explorer (IE) — has suffered some public embarrassments over security, including a recently-discovered hole that could allow malicious hackers to commandeer a user’s system.

Exploited by viewing a Web page or receiving e-mail through Microsoft Outlook, the hole could allow a hacker/cracker to create, place or overwrite content in a user’s local files. The security vulnerability, discovered by an eastern European programmer, utilizes the controversial ActiveX component technology to gain unauthorized access.

Users of IE5 can disable ActiveX controls through the browser’s “Internet options.” More information — and hopefully a patch — will soon be made available through Microsoft’s Web site.

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