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Electronic Commerce Essay

1276 words - 5 pages

Electronic CommerceInitially, the Internet was designed to be used by government and academic users,but now it is rapidly becoming commercialized. It has on-line "shops", evenelectronic "shopping malls". Customers, browsing at their computers, can viewproducts, read descriptions, and sometimes even try samples. What they lack isthe means to buy from their keyboard, on impulse. They could pay by credit card,transmitting the necessary data by modem; but intercepting messages on theInternet is trivially easy for a smart hacker, so sending a credit-card numberin an unscrambled message is inviting trouble. It would be relatively safe tosend a credit card number encrypted with a hard-to-break code. That wouldrequire either a general adoption across the internet of standard encodingprotocols, or the making of prior arrangements between buyers and sellers. Bothconsumers and merchants could see a windfall if these problems are solved. Formerchants, a secure and easily divisible supply of electronic money willmotivate more Internet surfers to become on-line shoppers. Electronic moneywill also make it easier for smaller businesses to achieve a level of automationalready enjoyed by many large corporations whose Electronic Data Interchangeheritage means streams of electronic bits now flow instead of cash in back-endfinancial processes. We need to resolve four key technology issues beforeconsumers and merchants anoint electric money with the same real and perceivedvalues as our tangible bills and coins. These four key areas are: Security,Authentication, Anonymity, and Divisibility.Commercial R&D departments and university labs are developing measures toaddress security for both Internet and private-network transactions. Thevenerable answer to securing sensitive information, like credit-card numbers, isto encrypt the data before you send it out. MIT's Kerberos, which is namedafter the three-headed watchdog of Greek mythology, is one of the best-known-private-key encryption technologies. It creates an encrypted data packet,called a ticket, which securely identifies the user. To make a purchase, yougenerate the ticket during a series of coded messages you exchange with aKerberos server, which sits between your computer system and the one you arecommunicating with. These latter two systems share a secret key with theKerberos server to protect information from prying eyes and to assure that yourdata has not been altered during the transmission. But this technology has apotentially weak link: Breach the server, and the watchdog rolls over and playsdead. An alternative to private-key cryptography is a public-key system thatdirectly connects consumers and merchants. Businesses need two keys in public-key encryption: one to encrypt, the other to decrypt the message. Everyone whoexpects to receive a message publishes a key. To send digital cash to someone,you look up the public key and use the algorithm to encrypt the payment. Therecipient then uses the private half...

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