SETCo, the partnership of payment card companies governing the SET Internet security standard, has issued its first software certifications.

The consortium-formally SET Secure Electronic Transaction LLC-plans to announce today that digital wallet systems of GlobeSet Inc., Spyrus/Terisa Systems, Trintech Group, and Verifone Inc. have passed necessary compliance tests.

The announcement comes about six months since the MasterCard and Visa associations, supported by American Express Co. and JCB of Japan, formed SETCo. They contracted out the testing process to Tenth Mountain Systems Inc., an affiliate of Science Applications International Corp. of San Diego.

Card companies and vendors that have been impatient with the progress of SET see the certifications as a momentum-booster. The four virtual wallets- and dozens of other software products in the Tenth Mountain pipeline-will begin displaying an SET logo both signifying technical compatibility and raising awareness of a heightened level of security.

"We are looking at this as a real milestone," said Steve Herz, senior vice president of electronic commerce, Visa International. "Having the technology embedded in the software helps educate the market."

"Financial institutions around the world have been looking forward to this," he said. "It provides a degree of confidence that the software is implemented in a standard manner" and that the authentication capabilities are consistent.

Relying on exchanges of digital certificates, SET obviates the need for entering and transmitting credit card account numbers over the Internet.

Despite strong support from all the card companies, vendors like International Business Machines Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co.'s Verifone unit, and both Microsoft Corp. and Netscape Communications Corp., it has been a long haul.

MasterCard and Visa combined what had been separate security efforts in 1995. After protracted technical and political wrangling, SET 1.0, the current "prime time" specification, emerged late last year. Leading vendors-most vocally and publicly Verifone-criticized MasterCard and Visa for not pushing SETCo and other promotional measures faster.

The vendors in the first wave of wallet certifications have portrayed themselves as early movers and can now reinforce the point.

GlobeSet of Austin, Tex., "was the first vendor to guarantee interoperability" with other certified software, said Michael Cation, chairman and chief executive officer.

Terisa, part of the SET team before being bought by Spyrus and now involved in the SET root key system, aims to be "the premier vendor" in the area, said Spyrus CEO Sue Pontius.

CEO John McGuire of Trintech, an Irish company that recently set up shop in Silicon Valley, said the certifications underscore his own call for "truly transparent interoperability."

Verifone vice president George Hoyem said the SET mark and interoperability demonstrations "illustrate significant progress for the standard."

Mr. Herz said 15 companies have software in the queue. The initial certifications apply only to consumer wallets. Merchant, payment-gateway, and digital certificate products also will be SET-certified.

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