New millennium, new views of Internet security. With one of the major security conferences, RSA in San Jose, starting on 16 January, for many organisations the security concerns are beginning to melt away. However, the general public still needs some convincing before it will commit wholeheartedly to buying online.
According to a recent Global E-Commerce Report backed by DHL, although nine out of 10 companies in Japan and the US no longer see Web security as a major barrier to their e-commerce sales, 69% of customers elsewhere surveyed disagree.
Similar attitudes prevail regarding online payment. While six out of 10 companies in the US, Australia and Finland feel payment poses no barrier to e-commerce, customers are again unconvinced.
The biggest headache, as many will have learned over Christmas, is order fulfilment. Even with today's moderately low order volumes, one in every five deliveries in the UK is late. In fact, even in the supposedly more mature electronic Christmas market in the US, many buyers were disappointed. And the situation is unlikely to improve. Within 12 months, customers' expectations are set to double. Sixty-two per cent of customers will expect to receive their complete order within two days of purchase, against today's average delivery time of four days.
As for e-business and the boardroom, 83% of respondents do not consider e-business to be one of their top three priorities, 74% of companies do not have a dedicated e-business operation or department, and, rather worryingly, 40% of e-commerce directors have never bought anything over the Web.
But everything else is fine
The Internet is famed for creating new terminology and the latest incarnation after the portal is the "vortal" - a market that will be worth a cool $5 trillion by 2002 according to the Delphi Group.
So, what's a vortal? It's an Internet business-to-business (B2B) market community that automates the transactions required to build a value chain. Vortals eliminate process latency and transaction time by providing a single point of contact, co-ordination and execution of business-to-business transactions. Sounds like a lot of jargon for a good idea.
Early examples in the B2B space include e-Steel, Chemex, VerticalNet and FreeMarkets. Others weighing in include General Motors and Ford, who have begun building their own "vortals". GM alone expects that about $500bn worth of purchasing will flow through the vortal in a few years' time.
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Despite security concerns diminishing, the odd scare still emerges to vindicate consumer worries - and this week is no exception. When vulnerabilities are found by leading cryptography specialists, consumers are right to be concerned.
The most recent security lapse has been exposed by Nicko van Someren, founder of Cipher, and is a potential risk to smaller merchants who share Web servers with other merchants.
Van Someren has demonstrated that it might be possible to locate and compromise a private key that is encrypted and buried in the disc storage of a Web server.
The discovery offers the possibility that a hacker with access to an organisation's server could locate cryptographic keys that would allow access to secure information, ranging from personal customer data to credit card numbers.
Although no information has yet been compromised using a "key-finding attack", some might say it is only a matter of time before it will.
Microsoft and Sun-Netscape are said to be backing nCipher's findings, which can be found on the company's Web site at www.ncipher.com together with a potential solution.