REDMOND, Wash., October 5, 1998 — Internet users around the world are increasingly aware of the need to keep their communications secure from hackers’ prying eyes. But users who think that online security requires expensive Internet hardware and software are in for a happy surprise. One of the least expensive devices for accessing the Internet is now also the most secure for international communications.
Microsoft Corp.’s WebTV Networks gained that distinction with today’s news that the U.S. government has granted it the first license to export top-level encryption for general commercial use.
The development is welcome news to WebTV subscribers, who now can access WebTV’s interactive services – and exchange email with fellow subscribers in those countries as well as internationally to other WebTV Network countries – using the strongest security, known as “non-key-recovery-based 128-bit-strength encryption.” Until now, federal law limited U.S. exports, including the WebTV Network service and the WebTV Internet Receiver (starting at prices less than $100), to much weaker “56-bit encryption,” which can be cracked by a sophisticated computer.
The federal government approved the top-level encryption license for WebTV as a way to promote electronic commerce and U.S. exports to key international markets in Japan and the United Kingdom, according to government and Microsoft’s WebTV officials. But before granting the license, government officials satisfied themselves that it would not compromise national security or law enforcement. The license was reviewed and approved by eight U.S. agencies, including the Departments of Commerce, Justice, Defense, State, and Energy, and by the FBI, CIA and the National Security Agency.
“It’s in the true spirit of the Internet that average consumers, rather than technologists or commercial interests, will be the first to benefit from this powerful encryption technology,” said Steve Perlman, president of WebTV Networks. “This license enables us to offer international customers both the least expensive and most-secure Internet experience possible.”