GTE Corp.'s Cybertrust group said it has begun on-line testing of "digital certificates" that comply with the credit card associations' Secure Electronic Transactions (SET) protocol.

The tests are being conducted through Cybertrust Partner Forum, a GTE site on the World Wide Web. GTE participated with MasterCard, Visa, and other technology companies in the development of SET, and it is one of several companies eager to begin moving secure card payments over the Internet.

"This is an important step toward a secure Internet payment system," said Tom Carty, GTE's director of security and electronic commerce. "The issuance of electronic credit cards for the cardholder and digital certificates for merchants and banks removes a major barrier from realizing secure electronic commerce."

Digital certificates, electronic credentials for authenticating participants in a transaction, are "the security core of the SET protocol," Mr. Carty said.

GTE, which is working closely with MasterCard, has been vying with Verisign Inc., Visa's preferred partner, for leadership in digital certification.

"GTE's aggressive posture in the certificate management area is an extremely important step toward mainstream adoption of secure payments," said Roger Bertman, general manager of Verifone Inc.'s Internet commerce division, which has collaborated with both GTE and Verisign in its move toward an on-line payments infrastructure.

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