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E*Trade to issue digital certificates

The online securities trader will provide 180,000 customers with digital certificates from VeriSign to simplify transactions.

Online stock brokerage E*Trade (EGRP) said today that it will provide its 180,000 customers with digital certificates from VeriSign to simplify online trades.

E*Trade, which is replacing its current system of users typing in their identification numbers and passwords, is opting for digital certificates that will vouch for the identity of its customers. E*Trade customers can also use the certificates as a general-purpose ID card for other Internet sites and for encrypted email.

The company expects that all of its customers will have the cobranded VeriSign and E*Trade certificates loaded on their hard drives by the end of the year.

E*Trade now uses Secure Sockets Layer security, which provides a secure connection between E*Trade and a customer for conducting trades. The digital certificates will offer a second type of security.

"No other online investing company now offers digital certificates," said Judy Balint, senior vice president of strategic business development. "This allows you to know who owns the computer you are talking with online."

But the digital IDs cannot be used for credit card transactions over the Internet under the new Secure Electronic Transactions protocol because SET requires a different kind of digital certificate.

VeriSign also issues "public" multipurpose certificates for Netscape Communications' In-Box Direct users, said Anil Pereira, VeriSign director of marketing. Using such certificates, subscribers to investment information service Motley Fool can see the site's content; online wine shop Virtual Vineyard also uses them to identify regular customers.

The digital IDs would cost consumers $9.95 if purchased directly from VeriSign. E*Trade has not determined its pricing to customers, Balint said.

Users of the new E*Trade certificates will be protected under VeriSign's NetSure plan, a consumer-oriented program for VeriSign digital ID users that protects against losses from theft, impersonation, and corruption or loss of the digital certificate in Internet transactions. The program, which covers losses up to $1,000, is underwritten by insurer United States Fidelity & Guaranty.

Separately, GTE's CyberTrust said today that it will issue digital certificates for MasterCard for a major SET credit card trial in Singapore.