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Calif. Court Certifies Class Action Vs. VeriSign

A California Superior Court judge has given the green light to a class action suite against VeriSign regarding the registrar's SSL security certificates.

More than 400,000 plaintiff are seeking $500 each in restitution, bringing the company's potential liability to $200 million.

The class action suit revolves around an allegation that VeriSign mislead buyers of its Secure Site Pro SSL certificates. SSL   certificates provide encryption and a degree of security for Internet communication.

Kevin Murphy, a judge for the the Superior Court in Santa Clara County, said he found the plaintiffs' allegations that VeriSign engaged in false and misleading advertising about Secure Site Pro to merit legal proceedings.

"Common and predominating legal issues include whether the Defendant engaged in deceptive business practices, whether the Defendant failed to disclose material facts, and whether members of the class are entitled to injunctive relief and restitution," Murphy said in court document certifying the case.

The class action suite stems from a 2005 lawsuit filed by Southeast Texas Medical Associates LLP.

Marc E. Gravely, counsel for the plaintiffs, told internetnews.com that the lawsuit requests a couple of things.

"It requests that class member be repaid for what they were mislead about, and we'll also request injunctive relief," Gravely said. "We are also requesting that VeriSign be ordered to give back all the money."

A VeriSign spokesperson was not available for comment as of this writing.

"The basis of the whole thing is that VeriSign has represented that their 128 bit encryption certificate is needed by people," Gravely continued.

"And the fact is that since the year 2000, when the federal government lifted export restrictions for browsers, those browsers are set at a 128 bit encryption by default."

The original suit filed by Southeast Texas Medical Associates notes that VeriSign sells two types of SSL certificates, Secure Site and Secure Site Pro.

There is a premium price difference between the two offerings based on a claim that "Secure Site Pro offers significantly enhanced encryption technology," according to complaint.

"Although VeriSign charges a $546 premium for its Secure Site Pro certificates, claims that these certificates provide added security are simply untrue," the complaint states.

"It has only been through its false and misleading advertising that defendants have been able to extract a $546 premium from thousands of business throughout the country."

Though the class action has been certified by a court of law, Gravely noted that the court has not ruled on the merits of the case.

"All the court is saying is that it's appropriate to proceed with 400,000 plaintiffs, "Gravely said. "But the merits have not been addressed."

VeriSign is now the world's largest provider of SSL certificates. Earlier this week it acquired competitor GeoTrust for $125 million in cash.