The following is excerpted from the Visa.com Web site.
On Feb. 1, 1996, Visa International and MasterCard International announced, with others in the industry, the development of a single technical standard for safeguarding payment card purchases made over open networks.
This is called the Secure Electronic Transaction, or SET, specification. It will provide financial institutions, merchants, and vendors with a new and safe way of getting the most from the emerging electronic commerce marketplace.
Designed to utilize technology for authenticating the parties involved in payment card purchases on any type of on-line network, including the Internet, SET was developed by Visa and MasterCard with participation from leading technology companies, including Microsoft, IBM, Netscape, SAIC, GTE, RSA, Terisa Systems, and Verisign.
By using sophisticated cryptographic techniques, SET will make cyberspace a safer place for conducting business and is expected to boost consumer confidence in electronic commerce. SET focuses on maintaining confidentiality of information, ensuring message integrity, and authenticating the parties involved in a transaction.
The significance of SET, over existing Internet security protocols, is found in the use of digital certificates. Digital certificates will be used to authenticate all the parties involved in a transaction. SET will provide those in the virtual world with the same level of trust and confidence a consumer has today when making a purchase ... in the physical world.
The SET specification is open and free to anyone who wishes to use it to develop SET-compliant software for buying or selling in cyberspace.