Q: How secure is the encryption used by SSL?
A:  It would take significantly longer than the age of the universe to crack a 128-bit key.

SSL uses public-key encryption to exchange a session key between the client and server; this session key is used to encrypt the http transaction (both request and response). Each transaction uses a different session key so that even if someone did manage to decrypt a transaction, that would not mean that they would have found the server's secret key; if they wanted to decrypt another transaction, they'd need to spend as much time and effort on the second transaction as they did on the first.  Of course, they would have first have to have figured out some method of intercepting the transaction data in the first place, which is in itself extremely difficult.  It would be significantly easier to tap your phone, or to intercept your mail to acquire your credit card number than to somehow intercept and decode Internet Data.

Servers and browsers do encryption ranging from a 40-bit secret key to a 128-bit secret key, that is to say '2 to the 40th power' or '2 to the 128th power'.  Many people have heard that 40-bit is insecure and that you need 128-bit to keep your credit card info safe.  They feel that using a 40-bit key is insecure because it's vulnerable to a "brute force" attack (basically trying each of the 2^40 possible keys until you find the one that decrypts the message). This was in fact demonstrated when a French researcher used a network of fast workstations to crack a 40-bit encrypted message in a little over a week.  Of course, even this 'vulnerability' is not really applicable to applications like an online credit card transaction, since the transaction is completed in a few moments.  If a network of fast computers takes a week to crack a 40-bit key, you'd be completed your transaction and long gone before the hacker even got started.

Of course, using a 128-bit key eliminates any problem at all because there are 2^128 instead of 2^40 possible keys.  Using the same method (a networked of fast workstations) to crack a message encrypted with such a key would take significantly longer than the age of the universe using conventional technology.   Remember that 128-bit is not just 'three times' as powerful as 40-bit encryption.  2^128 is 'two times two, times two, times two...' with 128 two's.   That is two, doubled on itself 128 times.  2^40 is already a HUGE number, about a trillion (that's a million, million!).   Therefor 2^128 is that number (a trillion), doubled over and over on itself another 88 times.   Again, it would take significantly longer than the age of the universe to crack a 128-bit key.

Key Size

Possible Key Combinations
2-bit 2^2 2x2 = 4
3-bit 2^3 2x2x2 = 8
4-bit 2^4 2x2x2x2 = 16
5-bit 2^5 2x2x2x2x2 = 32
6-bit 2^6 2x2x2x2x2x2 = 64
7-bit 2^7 2x2x2x2x2x2x2 = 128
8-bit 2^8 2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2 = 256
9-bit 2^9 2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2 = 512
10-bit 2^10 2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2 = 1024
11-bit 2^11 2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2... = 2048
12-bit 2^12 2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2... = 4096
16-bit 2^16 2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2... = 65536
24-bit 2^24 2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2... = 16.7 million
30-bit 2^30 2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2... = 1 billion (1,073,741,800)
40-bit 2^40 2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2... = 1 trillion (1,097,728,000,000)
56-bit 2^56 2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2.... = 72 thousand quadrillion (71,892,000,000,000,000)
128-bit 2^128 2 multiplied by 2
128 times over.
= 339,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000
   (give or take a couple trillion...)

Doing the math, you can see that using the same method that was used to break 40-bit encryption in a week, it would take about 72 million weeks (about 1.4 million years) to even break '56-bit medium' encryption and significantly longer than the age of the universe to crack a 128-bit key.  Of course the argument is that computers will keep getting faster, about doubling in power every 18 months.  That is true, but even when computers are a million times faster than they are now (about 20 years from now if they double in speed every year), it would then still take about 6 thousand, trillion years, which is about a million times longer than the Earth has been around.  Plus, simply upgrading to 129-bit encryption would take twice as long, and 130-bit would take twice as long again.  As you can see, it's far easier for the encryption to keep well ahead of the technology in this case.  Simply put, 128-bit encryption is totally secure.

Q: How do I know if encryption is enabled or not?
A:  Your Browser (Netscape or Internet Explorer) will tell you.

In Netscape versions 3.X and earlier you can tell what kind of encryption is in use for a particular document by looking at the "document" information" screen accessible from the file menu. The little key in the lower left-hand corner of the Netscape window also indicates this information. A solid key with three teeth means 128-bit encryption, a solid key with two teeth means 40-bit encryption, and a broken key means no encryption. Even if your browser supports 128-bit encryption, it may use 40-bit encryption when talking to other servers or to servers outside the U.S. and Canada.  In Netscape versions 4.X and higher, click on the "Security" button to determine whether the current page is encrypted, and, if so, what level of encryption is in use.

In Microsoft Internet Explorer, a solid padlock will appear on the bottom right of the screen when encryption is in use. To determine whether 40-bit or 128-bit encryption is in effect, open the document information page using File->Properties. This will indicate whether "weak" or "strong" encryption is in use.

Q: What about warnings or errors about the Secure Certificate?
A:  Your personal Security settings will determine what warnings you see.

Depending on how your security settings are setup in your Browser, you may also see information about our Certificate when you enter the secure directories.  This information will usually include the Dates that the Certificate is valid for, the site name that the Certificate has been issued to, and the Certificate Authority (or 'CA') that issued the Certificate.  You can also usually view the Certificate to see information about the various parties, including Inet2000 and our CA.

The most common warning is that you have not previously chosen to Trust the authority.  This is a normal warning if you haven't already purchased anything online from a Merchant who's certificate was issued by a Certificate Authority that you haven't told your browser to trust from now on. Of course, you may well have no errors, warnings or information screens at all - again, largely depending on the way you've got your security settings set in your Browser.

In any case, the encryption level and the security is the same whether you've got your settings low (don't warn me about anything) or very high (warn and inform me about everything).  Either way, your data is still encrypted and still secure.

Q: What happens when the Credit Card is actually processed.
A:  The transaction is totally secure.

At Inet2000, the security of your personal information is paramount.  All Credit Card Transactions are completed using a 128 Bit SSL Encrypted Secure Transaction.  As we transmit the information to the Bank's Secure SSL Server, they require a 128-bit transaction and will not process a transaction without one.  Even though 40 or 56 Bit transactions are very secure, our Bank's insistence on 128 Bit SSL means that there is never any chance of your information every being intercepted or decoded.  Again, your security is of paramount importance for us.

If you have any questions or concerns, please email them to info@inet2000.com and we'll be pleased to help you out.  :-)