VeriSign has enhanced its Secured Seal program, aiming to spread more confidence in the security of merchants' retail sites -- and to make its offerings more attractive to retailers.

Mountain View, Calif.-based VeriSign, which, among several lines of business, provides security and online transaction services, also began offering the seal to customers of its payment products and Managed Security Services.

Online merchants that have purchased a Secure Socket Layer (SSL) certificate from VeriSign have been able to post the Secured Seal on their Websites. It's not unlike a digital "Good Housekeeping Seal," a quick, visual way for consumers to identify e-commerce sites that will protect their personal information while making a transaction.

The indication that a site uses the SSL protocol means that communication between the browser and the Web server is encrypted, and that VeriSign, as the certificate authority, has verified that the Web site a consumer is accessing is actually operated by that company.

Shoppers can click on the seal to peruse the kinds of security available on an e-commerce site before they begin the purchasing process.

Effective Tuesday, merchants using other VeriSign services also may display the seal. VeriSign's e-commerce payment offerings include the Payflow Pro and Payflow Link payment gateways. Fraud Protection and Managed Security Services include VeriSign Managed Firewall and VeriSign Phishing Response Service.

For these customers, Trevor Healy, vice president of VeriSign Payment Services, said, "The seal is an additional badge of honor."

"Originally, we gave a graphical seal to customers when they bought our SSL certificates," Healy said. "We never promoted or marketed this. When we did research on our branding, we found that a very high percentage of consumers recognized the mark and were more comfortable shopping online."

The company also redesigned the seal following market testing to give it more visual punch. It now displays the current date and time. "We've made it significantly harder to spoof," Healy said.

VeriSign's SSL services are used by over 400,000 Web sites, with over 120,000 online businesses employing the company's online payment services. Healy said VeriSign is involved in around 35 percent of all North American e-commerce.

E-commerce is at a critical point, he said. The public's enthusiasm for shopping at home in fuzzy slippers could be dampened by the prevalence of phishing attacks, database cracking and identity theft that the Internet is prone to.

According to research from Harris Interactive commissioned by VeriSign, 30 percent of Americans cite security concern as a key factor that deters them from shopping online.

But security was far from their major concern. Shipping costs (48 percent) and the inability to touch an item before buying it (46 percent) were the top deterrents, followed by the difficulty of returning items.

While 74 percent look for a security seal such as VeriSign's, the Better Business Bureau Online's or Trustee's, only 28 percent had heard of phishing, the practice of luring Web users to phony look-alike Web sites.

Harris found that 63 percent of the more than 2200 people polled planned to spend at least a couple dollars of their holiday shopping budget online. Only 10 percent planned to do less shopping online this season, with 66 percent aiming to march last year's e-commerce buys.