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BofA Steps up Authenticity Plan

Bank of America moved quickly to restore its reputation this week, announcing a new online authentication service it says will help prevent online fraud and identity theft. The announcement comes only days after acknowledging a recent breach had been more severe than previously suspected.

The bank says its 13.2 million online banking customers will now have access to SiteKey, a new protection service designed to reduce incidences of fraud and identity theft.

"SiteKey helps you know it's us and we know it's you," Sanjay Gupta, e-Commerce executive with Bank of America, said in a statement. "It's a free, personalized partnership that builds trust and security."

Bank of America, which claims the most online banking customers in the country, is the first major financial services company to provide this extra level of security.

The announcement comes two days after bank officials confirmed that information on about 60,000 customers has been stolen by a data-theft ring. The New Jersey-based thieves are believed to be at the center of the largest U.S. banking security breach in history.

The company has said there is no evidence that pointed to lost customer data being used for account fraud or identity theft. Bank customers were informed that they would not be responsible for any unauthorized charges and were offered a free one-year subscription to a credit monitoring service.

Bank of America, like many who trade in the information business, has had a rough year protecting personal information. In March, the bank lost tapes housing the personal information of 1.2 million government employees.

The latest service provides more ways for the bank to confirm a customer's identity, while giving customers a new way to confirm that the bank Web site they visit is legitimate, according to the company.

SiteKey, developed in collaboration with Redwood City, Calif.-based security software vendor PassMark Security, has a simple system that has customers selecting an image, writing a brief phrase and choosing three challenge questions. The customer and the bank can pass that information securely back and forth to confirm each other's identity, according to the bank.

Online banking from Bank of America was rated No. 1 from at least one research firm, Javelin Strategy & Research, even before SiteKey.

Using online banking can reduce the chances of identity theft and fraud, according to a Javelin report issued in January.

The service will launch in Tennessee in mid-June and roll out across the country by the end of the year.