Verisign Inc. said it has gotten approval from the Department of Commerce's Bureau of Export Administration to expand the sale of digital certificates based on strong data encryption codes.

Under the broadened exception to export restrictions, Verisign's Global Server ID certificates with encryption keys 128 bits long can be sold to on-line merchants, health-care and insurance organizations, and overseas subsidiaries of U.S. corporations.

President and chief executive officer Stratton Sclavos said the approval represented "a quantum leap in the use of the Internet for secure communications and e-commerce. Now, using a standard browser, individuals shopping on the Web or using the Internet to get health-care records or conduct banking, insurance, or other secure transactions can be assured that they are taking advantage of the highest level of encryption and authentication available."

"This is great news for Dell's on-line customers, both domestically and internationally," said Michael S. Dunn, chief technology officer of Dell Online. "The availability of this higher level of encryption to our international business customers, as well as to those who had been tentative about 40-bit security, is certainly going to help enable customers on our two Web sites."

More than 75% of browsers in use in the United States, and virtually all browsers outside the country, are so-called export browsers with the capability to step up to 128-bit sessions, Verisign said. The company added that the enhanced 128-bit server certificates can be issued by companies using its OnSite service.

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