Two of the biggest credit-card companies have joined forces to protect people from hackers when buying items over the Internet. Electronic transactions are forecast to be worth $500m (pounds 330m) next year, and between $5bn and $20bn by the end of the decade.
Mastercard and Visa have announced a software standard which will let people shop over the World Wide Web - the graphical portion of the Internet - by typing in their credit- card number when they spot an item that they want offered on a Web "page". Although this can be done now, credit-card details can be captured by criminals tapping the data network, who can use the card number to make their own purchases.
The new system would encrypt the details before they leave the buyer's computer and transmit them over the Internet to the seller, where they would be decoded. The card could then be charged for the appropriate amount and the item dispatched. Anyone intercepting the credit-card details en route would face a huge task trying to decrypt them.
Although there are encryption systems built in to a number of "browser" programs on the Internet - including the most popular, from the American company Netscape - they have been cracked by determined efforts.