A question of safety and the Net

The Internet must tighten its security before credit card firms throw their weight in.

SBHD: The Internet must tighten its security before credit card firms throw their weight in.

The Internet has not built up a reputation for security over the past few months. When hackers are found to have penetrated the Pentagon’s defence systems through the Net, ordinary users are bound to wonder if it will be a safe place for their credit card number.

Barclaycard has nonetheless taken the first steps towards marketing electronic credit on the Net. Last week, the company launched Barclaycard Netlink, an interactive magazine that makes available Barclay-card information to about 30 million Internet subscribers worldwide.

The system takes the form of an interactive magazine, designed by graphic designer AP Merrion, through which subscribers can apply to join Barclaycard or make comments on existing services.

“The Internet is not an elitist service,” says a Barclaycard spokeswoman. “Banks are looking at ways of widening their communication with customers. With its present 1 million subscribers, that is likely to mean about 200,000 existing card customers who can be reached on the Net.”

Initial attempts to exploit the Internet as a junk mail paradise have proved counter-productive. Sending out huge volumes of unsolicited junk mail – “spamming” in Net Speak – definitely violates the unwritten decorum of the system and has provoked angry reactions from the Net’s founders.

“You can’t do the hard sell on the Internet because people are paying to receive the information,” says AP Merrion marketing director Mike Coleman.

However, Coleman stresses that the commercial potential of so-called cyberspace is only just becoming clear.

“It’s creating a dialogue, which you invite people to join, not a monologue.” This makes the techniques for communicating with subscribers closer to relationship marketing than direct mail.

But is it secure? Barclaycard is delaying the launch of more sophisticated card services for at least a month, or until reliable encryption systems are in place. The company promises it has installed a “firewall” security block to prevent unauthorised users reaching customers records. Later still, it will offer the possibility of on-line payment, although the technology for this is still not watertight.

The Department of Trade and Industry has a team working full-time on developing policy for IT security. This team has already produced a code of practice giving tips on security, but the fundamentally anarchic nature of the Net makes it hard for any domestic body to regulate.

“Demand for conducting business on the Internet is increasing all the time,” says Marc Goblot, technical director at New Media Marketing, a company that specialises in interactive advertising. “In the future, when users are asked to enter their credit card details, they will be told they are entering an encrypted space.

“Once this is tightened up to the satisfaction of the credit card companies, they will throw their weight in,” he adds.

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