Rethinking Internet Trust and Reputation
Today, we are launching the VeriSign Trust Seal, a new service for small and medium businesses with an online presence. It is a big day for everyone at VeriSign who has been working really hard on the new service the last 15 months. It is always a thrill to release a new product. It is even more exciting when there is a compelling and long term vision behind the initial release of a new Internet service.
Setting the standard for websites trust
The goal behind this new trust service is as simple as it is lofty. Is it possible to create a blueprint for trust on the Internet? Can we increase safety and trust on the web by raising the bar of security best-practices? Can we communicate trust in such simple visual way that any consumer would understand? Can we promote trust between consumers and websites as an engine for economic growth?
Trust brokering as a network service
From the late 13th century Italian Renaissance, to the early 21rst century global economy, trust has always been a fundamental tenet in the development of commerce and trade. In a world that is increasingly leveraging the web as a channel for customer acquisition, transaction and fulfillment, trust brokering is a critical yet missing network primitive. For enterprises to embrace SAAS applications, suppliers to join Internet marketplaces or consumers to select businesses on the web, the network needs trust brokering services that can certify and assert trust among parties with little prior knowledge of each other.
A pragmatic starting point for website trust
Web site trust is a multi-faceted problem. Authenticity, security, reliability, assurance, privacy and reputation are all important dimensions to ensuring trust. Therefore, setting the initial bar for Web trust is a significant challenge. Set the bar too low and the lack of substance in the attestation of trust make it irrelevant to consumers. Set the bar too high and the economic barrier to entry makes the standard irrelevant for websites. Unless a pragmatic balance is achieved, the end goal of a complete standard for trust can never be achieved. Trust Seal is VeriSign's initial step to providing an end to end solution to this challenge. We hope to have achieved such initial balance of pragmatic relevance to continuously raise the bar for trust on the Web in the years to come. So, on February 24th 2010, what does it mean for a website to be VeriSign trusted?
Authenticity with business authentication
First it means that we have verified that the web site is authentic. Basically, we verify that the website is really who they say they are. We call this process business authentication. We make sure that the business owner owns the domain name and that the business is a legitimate business. Because bad guys can easily hide between the faÃ§ade of a professional web site, this is a very important step to establishing Web trust. By verifying the true identity of the website and the business behind it, accountability can be achieved. This is similar to what certificate authorities (the good ones) do when they validate an organization before issuing an SSL certificate for e-commerce. What we have done is extend a fundamental principle for trust in ecommerce to any Web domain, to any web site on the World Wide Web.
Safety with malware detection in the cloud
The second check is to evaluate how safe it is for a consumer to visit the website. We contemplated many different approaches. However, the last two years have taught us that the most dangerous thing that can happen to consumers on the Web is to be infected with malware. For that reason, we decided to tackle this significant safety issue of web malware first. The new VeriSign trust seal is dependent on a successful drive-by download malware scan. Each website is scanned daily. The seal display is automatically turned off when malware is detected. Remediation instructions are provided to the website to remove identified exploits.
Trust Signaling for the Web
consumers, we are reducing the trust signal to its simpler expression. The seal displayed on the site web pages attests that the site is authentic and safe. This is where the VeriSign heritage comes into play. Millions of consumers are already familiar with the VeriSign Secured seal for SSL. We are maintaining the brand, but extending the scope and meaning of our trust mark. The VeriSign seal becomes a simple yet powerful visual cue for consumers to assess whether a website meets transparent criteria for authenticity and safety. Trust marks for ecommerce web sites are not new. However, we believe that any commercial website, transactional, non-transactional or social Web outlets of small and medium businesses could greatly benefit from trust marks moving forward.
Beyond the web site: trust signaling in search and directories
In the long run, trust and reputation assessment should become part of the discovery process of online businesses. Popularity and page ranks are one dimension of search. How much a site can be trusted ("trust rank") is important measure as well. In fact, in the last years, safe search has emerged as an important feature for search engines and end-point security clients. Both have already integrated features to detect, signal and block drive-by malware infected websites. "White lists" of trusted sites should prove an important complement to black lists for search and navigation. Therefore, we have been working to integrate the new seal as a trust indicator in search and directory services (more on that in a future post).
As you can see, the VeriSign trust Trust seal encompasses many new features and the roadmap should keep the product and development teams busy for a while. We are thrilled to tackle one of the most critical and challenging Internet issue. So, give the new service a test run and let us know what you think.