Microsoft Corp. and Visa International are banding together to make it safer for credit card users to shop on the information superhighway.
The Redmond, Wash.-based software Goliath and the bank card association announced on Tuesday that they would jointly provide encryption software to protect card transactions as they pass over Visa's payment network.
The pair also plan to make standards available to other software vendors and card organizations so they can create their own system or license one from Microsoft.
With the anticipated growth of home banking, the security of the information that is conveyed over public and private networks has become a top priority to banks and nonbanks seeking a berth in the business.
Currently, 30 million consumers and three million merchants participate in the Internet, and transactions from these rise by an average of 1% per day, according to William L. Chenevich, group executive vice president overseeing payment systems for Visa International.
Consumer participation in the global computer network leapt 200% last year, and the number of merchants on-line grew 150%.
"This suggests a huge potential volume over time," Mr. Chenevich said.
Microsoft already took the lead in remote banking with the announcement last month of plans to acquire Intuit, maker of the world's most popular consumer financial software, Quicken.
While some financial institutions fear the software powerhouse may try to wedge itself between the banks and their customers, this latest announcement clearly aligns Microsoft with banks, via the bank-owned card association with which it is now partnered.
Visa officials said the association entered this alliance as much for the popularity of Microsoft's Windows operating system as for its data encryption technology. There are more than 60 million copies of the software in use today.
"Microsoft clearly has dominance in terms of people using their software to use their PCs," Mr. Chenevich said. "We basically want people to be able to use their card whenever and wherever they want."
Together, he said, the two can afford customers a more user-friendly and safe approach to home-banking transactions than has previously existed.
The data security service is expected to be available sometime next year.