A Cheap Way To Make Plastic Cryptic

ONE BIG STUMBLING BLOCK TO shopping via personal computer has been the lack of a way to send payments securely over networks such as the Internet. Consumers can send credit-card numbers in scrambled form, but then banks charge merchants relatively high transaction fees because they have no proof that customers actually have their cards in hand. And banks won't accept debit card payments over a network without the card itself being swiped through a terminal equipped with special hardware to scramble the data.

ISED Corp. in Morris Plains, N.J., may have the answer with a low-cost hardware device designed to handle either kind of card. Designed to sell for less than $100, its SED (for secure encryption device) product can turn telephones, modem-equipped PCs, and perhaps even television sets into point-of-sale terminals. After a consumer swipes a credit card through the gizmo and taps in a secret ID number, microcircuits encrypt the data for transmission to the merchant's computer. The transmission can be sent through a personal computer or directly over a telephone line.

One early customer is Chittenden Trust Co. in Vermont, which plans to give the device to small merchants as an affordable way of handling credit- and debit-card transactions in stores.

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