America Online Inc.'s Netscape Communications subsidiary is offering its Internet browser users a quick method of enhancing security for electronic banking and shopping. With its Communicator 4.61 client software, Netscape has made it possible to upgrade to a higher level of encryption in seconds with a 36-kilobyte download.

With that comes what the company calls U.S.-grade encryption, with keys that are 128 bits long.

That is what on-line banking and bill-paying services increasingly require, and it is far more secure than the 56-bit "international grade" built into the earlier browsers.

Netscape said there are 4.7 billion trillion times as many 126-bit key combinations as there are 56-bit combinations, making the codes much harder to crack.

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