GTE Cybertrust is seeking credit card processors' help in issuing digital certificates.

Beginning today, merchant-acquiring banks will be issuing the GTE Corp. unit's certificates-which are used to verify identities on the Internet- directly to merchants.

The SureServer certificates tag a merchant's Web site with a unique electronic credential, cobranded by the bank and GTE Cybertrust.

GTE Cybertrust said that as an on-line confidence-builder, its Merchant Services Program can help banks strengthen their business relationships. Banks would share certification revenue with GTE.

"Banks want to go to their merchants and show them that they are leaders on the Internet," said Joseph P. Vignaly, director of marketing and business development at GTE CyberTrust.

"The real opportunity is that a bank can improve its relationship with an existing business customer," said Eric Hemmendinger, an analyst in Aberdeen Group's information security practice.

"What is unusual is that GTE Cybertrust has focused specifically on the merchant-acquiring segment," he said. Banks are a natural for this, he added, because "they know the merchants' credit history."

Said Mr. Vignaly, "We are trying to differentiate ourselves by meeting banks' requirements and letting banks meet their merchants' needs."

GTE Cybertrust is making "a more firm commitment to the service model," said Ted Julian, lead security analyst at Forrester Research, Cambridge, Mass. "Here is an example of banks realizing ... they can outsource (digital certificate management) and yet do day-to-day administration."

The company's move is the latest to raise the visibility of the certificate business in banking. A competitor, Verisign Inc., recently announced a major sale to First Union Corp. Last month, eight major banks from the United States, Germany, and the Netherlands announced the formation of a "global trust enterprise" with the public key infrastructure vendor Certco Inc.

GTE is targeting the top 20 merchant banks, and four have already signed, Mr. Vignaly said. Merchants do not need to modify their Web sites to participate. They fill out an application form and e-mail it to the bank for verification. GTE Cybertrust translates it into a standard format and applies the data encryption technology that forms the basis of the merchant's digital identifier.

GTE Cybertrust also sells software for managing in-house operations of financial institutions. Most of its financial clients, which include American Express, Bank One, First Union, Mellon Bank, PNC Bank, and Wells Fargo Bank, contract with the company to host their digital-certificate programs.

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WOBURN, Mass.-nCipher Inc. said it has formed a distribution alliance for its cryptographic accelerator technology.

The systems, known as nFast, speed the processing of complex cryptographic functions in electronic commerce.

The channel distribution program for value-added resellers, distributors, and system integrators is called nCAPP-nCipher Channel Access Partner Program.

Christopher Foran, North American channel sales manager, said marketing partners "will find ready demand for products to ensure that customer information and transactions are secure and fast."

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