Site seals may help users feel secure

Whether or not e-commerce continues to flower in Canada could hinge on the security of online transactions, and the ability of Web sites to adhere to the highest security standards available.

Case in point: the Credit Union Central (CUC) of Canada, which has more than 600 locations and four million members across the country, recently selected Soltrus Inc. and VeriSign Inc.’s Secure Site Seal to help boost the security of CUC members’ online transactions using public key infrastructure (PKI) technologies.

CUC is a three-tiered body that includes local, provincial and national organizations, and functions as a national trade association and central finance facility.

The project is currently in the launch phase, and as Soltrus’ Anthony Santilli, the company’s vice-president of marketing explained, the company didn’t provide any in-house training on the software installation. When asked about the existing level of security, he noted that the security technologies that were already in place were quite adequate, but that the credit unions needed additional help around the educational aspects of security practices.

Toronto-based Soltrus is the Canadian national affiliate of VeriSign. That company’s Secure Site Seal allows customers to verify that a site is a legitimate business and that any information sent over the Web browser is encrypted and secured using Secure Socket Layer (SSL) encryption. The SSL products are sold in either 40-bit or 128-bit encryption and sell for $525 and $1,299 per certificate for a yearly subscription, added Santilli.

Customers such as CUC that have installed the company’s Server IDs, are then able to load the Secure Site Seal, which appears on the organization’s Web site. One of the more vital pieces is the authentication and validation process, which ensures that the certificate is actually being given to the registered owner of the Web site, he said.

It appears that the promise of the seal – encouraging consumers to shop online because the site is secure – is catching on. When, an online marketing Web site owned by Technologies Inc. in Kelowna, B.C., went live in January, it chose VeriSign’s Secure Site Seal based mostly on the vendor’s solid industry reputation for providing high-level security.

The company is using the 128-bit encryption variant of the product to protect its Web site, and hopes to attract new business because of VeriSign’s brand recognition.

“It’s our belief that people want to feel secure, and to [our organization] there is a false sense of security over the Internet…we felt that this type of security system would give [customers] that sense of security in online transactions,” said Randy Hennigar, president of Technologies.

Victor Keong, partner in the security services group at Toronto-based Deloitte & Touche LLP, agrees that Web sites that flash a security seal can gain a competitive advantage. He cited the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants (CICA) which uses a security shield on its sites called WebTrust. “It helps because it talks about key things like processing integrity and online privacy that ensures that your information does not get into the hands of someone else, and that the data you submit will be protected [as well as] the availability promise,” he said.

Santilli said demand for Soltrus’ security products has been “very big” in the financial services sector in Canada. All five of Canada’s major banks are customers of the company.

In the U.S., the e-commerce market is considered more mature than Canada’s and “the Internet dependency of financial institutions is definitely increasing pretty dramatically from a business process and customer relationship standpoint,” said Mike Foley, vice-president of trusted commerce and content business at VeriSign in Mountain View, Calif.

So will SSL and vendors such as Soltrus lead the security wave in years to come? Perhaps not, because as Deloitte’s Keong pointed out, security management tools, which try to consolidate and compare data, may soon challenge these technologies and vendors for the security spotlight.