Compuserve Network Services has turned to International Business Machines Corp. for Internet payment assistance.

Compuserve, which provides a sizable portion of dial-up card authorizations to retail merchants, will extend that capability to electronic commerce with IBM's CommercePoint Gateway.

The IBM system is designed to handle card authorizations according to SET, the Secure Electronic Transaction protocol that IBM and other technology companies had a hand in developing under the auspices of MasterCard International and Visa International.

IBM has been especially aggressive in pursuing SET opportunities as part of its heavily advertised "e-business" strategy. The technology giant's Somers, N.Y.-based Internet division makes the unique boast of having implemented SET systems on every continent except Antarctica. Compuserve Network Services, part of the Compuserve Inc. on-line service complex being acquired by Worldcom Inc., is a big win for IBM because Compuserve provides technical support to Visa's authorization network, said Scott Dueweke, electronic payments and certification marketing manager for IBM in Falls Church, Va.

He pointed out that IBM worked with First Data Corp., the biggest merchant-acquiring card processor, on a MasterCard SET pilot with Wal-Mart Stores and Chase Manhattan Bank. Through Compuserve, IBM now reaches VisaNet and Visa's merchant processing venture with Total System Services Inc., Vital Processing Services.

These are all signs that "big players are signing up" for SET, a prerequisite to widespread deployment and acceptance, Mr. Dueweke said in a recent interview.

Compuserve said it has integrated CommercePoint Gateway in a way that does not require its customers to reconfigure their networks or change procedures to accommodate Internet transactions.

"Providing SET services is a natural extension of our technology," said Janel Crabtree, Compuserve group manager of managed network services. "Now we can offer customers one more way to drive sales while solving long- standing security issues."

Compuserve's IBM gateway is in "beta trials" at financial institutions and retailers and is slated for a formal launch in January.

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