Netscape offers added security for browser

Netscape Communications has released a free software patch to beef up security in their Communicator browser. The 128-bit upgrade can be downloaded by anyone who claims to live in the US or Canada - no proof required.

Netscape Communications has released a free software patch that users can download to beef up security in their Communicator browser, better addressing the needs of users who want to bank and shop on the Internet, the company says.

Previously, customers had to download an entire new browser to get the added security, said Netscape, which is now a subsidiary of America Online Inc. (AOL). Users can now download a small patch for Communicator 4.61, the latest version of the software, from http://home.netscape.com/smartupdate/, Netscape said.

The upgrade beefs up the browser's security from 56-bit encryption to 128-bit encryption, a level that some Web sites require before users can shop and bank online. The upgrade will also make users' encrypted e-mail more secure, Netscape said.

US law generally restricts the export of products higher than 56-bit encryption because the government fears the technology could be used for criminal activities against the US.

Netscape noticed recently that Microsoft had been granted permission by the U.S. government to offer a 128-bit version of its browser, by including a provision that users must reside in the US or Canada to download the upgrade, said Michael la Guardia, group product manager for Navigator.

"We thought that would be good for our customers, too," he said, so Netscape applied for and was granted similar government permission.

La Guardia acknowledged that the global nature of the Web would allow anybody to download the strong encryption patch and claim to live in the US or Canada.

"We can't prevent people from breaking the law. The onus of complying with the law lies with the consumer," la Guardia said, adding that Netscape is opposed to any such illegal behavior.

A 56-bit encryption browser already allows for billions of possible "keys" for deciphering encoded data, only one of which unlocks the information. The stronger 128-bit encryption increases the number of possible keys to billions of trillions.

Netscape recently saw its share of the browser market slip to 25 percent as it continues to lose ground to rival Microsoft's Internet Explorer, according to research released earlier this month by WebSideStory Inc., a company that tracks Internet traffic.

Netscape Communications Corp, in Mountain View, California, can be reached at +1-650-254-1500 or at http://www.netscape.com/.

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