Is It Safe to Shop on the Internet?
When you shop on the Internet, you have the same concerns as you do when you use a
catalog to shop over the telephone.
- Impersonation: Is the business that takes receiving my order authentic?
- Eavesdropping: Could someone "listen in" to my order and steal my credit card
In the real world, you often give your credit card to cashiers or waiters, and you give
out your account number over the phone when placing an order. Using your credit card
number on the Internet is no more dangerous than these practices. In fact, it is often
more secure to give out your account number over the Internet, because many sites work
with your browser software to encode your transaction so if outside parties intercept it,
they won't be able to read it.
We counter security threats with a technology called SSL (Secure Sockets Layer). SSL is
a set of rules followed by computers connected to the Internet. These rules include
encryption, which guards against eavesdropping; data integrity, which assures that your
communications aren't tampered with during transmission; and authentication, which
verifies that the party actually receiving your communication is who it claims to be.
To check a site's security status, look at the site's URL in your browser window. An
"s" added to the familiar "http" (to make "https") indicates
that SSL is in effect. In Netscape Navigator 3.0 and earlier, the broken key symbol in the
lower-left corner of your browser window becomes solid when you are in secure mode. In
Netscape Communicator 4.0 and 4.5, the padlock symbol in the corner, usually open, is
closed in secure mode. In Internet Explorer 4.0, a closed padlock appears when you are in
If you're about to send information to a site that's not using SSL, your browser will
warn you first.
SSL protects your communications during transmission. However, you must also protect
yourself by dealing only with Internet companies you are certain you can trust, just as
you deal only with merchants who won't share your credit card numbers with others.
The Federal Trade Commission is increasing its surveillance of Internet fraud, and the
National Consumers League has created the Internet
Fraud Watch, an online service for reporting frauds.
Are Internet Banking and Investment Transactions Safe?
Online banking and investment services, and your browser, also rely on encryption to
protect the information in your transactions. Before your computer transmits your
information to an online financial service, the information is encrypted - turned into
code. When the information reaches its destination, it is decoded. Anyone who intercepts
the information during transmission receives only gibberish. Online financial services
also encrypt all information they transmit back to you.