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Microsoft locks up online banking

Microsoft announces new 128-bit encryption software intended to secure online financial transactions.

Microsoft (MSFT) today announced new 128-bit encryption software intended to secure online financial transactions.

The company claims to have already signed up 20 banks, including Wells Fargo, Bankers Trust Australia, and Inverlat of Mexico to use its Server Gated Crypto (SGC) software to secure online banking connections.

The software, posted to Microsoft's Web site, allows connections between banks, using Windows NT-based servers running BackOffice applications, and customers to be protected by 128-bit encryption without the use of a key escrow scheme?favored by federal officials?provided the banks also obtain a digital certificate to vouch for their identity online.

Microsoft is working with VeriSign to enable Verisign to become an issuer, or certificate authority, of digital certificates for the SGC technology.

The SGC technology builds upon the SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) security protocol and enables servers to turn on 128-bit encryption if an SGC digital certificate is present, according to Microsoft.

The company will also post an upgrade that allows its Internet Explorer Web browser, Money 98 personal finance software, and Netscape Communications Navigator web browser to query servers to find out if an SGC digital certificate is present. The client and server software then negotiate a 128-bit encrypted session. If not, the highest available level of encryption is used, according to Microsoft.

Earlier this year, Microsoft said it obtained an export license from the U.S. Department of Commerce to deploy SGC software and issue 128-bit SGC digital certificates to international banks.