First Union Corp. announced an agreement with GTE Corp. that it said would make it the first financial institution to use digital certificates in an Internet-based home banking system.

First Union said it would test GTE Cybertrust certificates for user identification, access control, and data security in its Cyberbanking program.

In a four-month pilot, GTE certificates with a First Union brand are to be issued to a small group of customers, mainly as a means of strengthening authentication and simplifying the log-in process. In a later phase they will be incorporated into bill payment and funds transfer services, First Union said.

Digital certification, an electronic method of assuring the validity of parties to a transaction, is beginning to be deployed in on-line commerce and is central to the Secure Electronic Transactions protocol for credit cards on the Internet.

It had yet to be deployed in a mainstream banking application.

Digital certificates "will give our Cyberbanking customers an increased level of convenience and security," said Edgar D. Brown, senior vice president of First Union's customer direct access division. "Digital certificates are the wave of the future, and we are excited to test this product with GTE."

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