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Proposal for an Electronic Commerce Testbed
As Tony Rutkowski said recently in Tokyo, the Internet works best when
things come from the bottom up. Things that require a lot of
sophisticated infrastructure before you can even get started are hard
to get off the ground. This tends to be a problem with all security
technology and particularly with proposals for electronic commerce. We
need a testbed where we can play with the various proposals without
having the dangers associated with using real money in an experimental
environment. On the other hand we need a large number of people using
the experimental software because scalability and usability are two key
criteria. This document will describe:
1. The technical requirements for such a testbed.
2. The social engineering necessary to get a large number of Internet
users participating in the testbed.
Initially there would be only one bank. Multiple banks and inter-bank
issues would be brought in later. Protocols should be designed to allow
for multiple banks.
The intention would be to implement (and thus compare) multiple forms
of electronic money: everything from open electronic cheques (and
other EDI) to sophisticated double-blinded digital cash schemes.
All source for software used in the testbed is openly available. It
is not necessarily available for reuse - all that is required for the
testbed's purposes is to ensure that there is no security-through-
The system must support multiple currencies in simultaneous use. The
only requirement for a currency is that the mechanism for creating new
money is defined and does not allow people to get an arbitrarily large
amount of money. [E.g. if it is done by allowing registered people to
receive an "income" then people shouldn't be able to register multiple
times in different guises without sustaining a real cost for doing
so.] I discuss some ideas for how to do this later.
A currency market should be set up at an early stage, if only as a fun
People are encouraged (preferably by real physical prizes) to try to
break the electronic commerce protocols. To facilitate this all
communication for the system goes through "virtual" paths which are
are on one or more computers. People who register as attackers can
take over one or more virtual links and can delete/insert/change
packets on those links. Denial of service attacks are not allowed.
Nor (obviously) are attacks that don't use the officially sanctioned
attack points. While the last sentence seems obvious it needs to be
made strongly so we don't get people claiming in court "I broke into
their machine because they wanted people to try to break their
Finally, and this is perhaps the hardest part, we need applications
which use the electronic commerce protocols and which a lot of people
will want to use. This is hard with only "play" money, but I have a
few ideas below.
The protocols and the applications will not be tied to particular
currencies. Particular servers and users will only accept particular
currencies. This might be partly handled by having a currency market
but ultimately some currencies may have real value while others don't,
and the problem of acquiring the currencies with real value will be no
different to our experience of real life.
Possible Detail: Creation of Money
The Internet Society might issue "Internet Dollar" play money to all
its (financial) members who are interested, at some steady rate. Then
organizations wishing to support the Internet Society while
participating in the testbed might provide some services (e.g. by www)
and charge with Internet$s. This would encourage people to join the
Internet Society to use those services. It will also allow people to
provide services which they would provide free except for a fear that
they would be overused and thus affect the organizations network link -
the play money charge limits possible use.
A charity (or group of charities) could provide play money to people
making donations. For example a donation of $100 to charity X might
get you 100 X$s. Then organizations wishing to support charity X can
provide services which are charged for in X$s.
All the people involved in these experiments need to be aware that the
software is experimental and that people are encouraged to break the
protocols and "steal" the play money. So they shouldn't use it for
anything serious. However when things stabilize and become trusted it
is possible to imagine slightly more serious uses before we get to
pure commercial applications. Network providers could experiment with
For example AARNet could issue AARNet units to its customers in
proportion to their bill. A certain amount, say 40%, of the
international link could be reserved for priority traffic. Users
wanting a share of that priority component of the link would
participate in an auction that is run every 30 minutes using AARnet
units as currency.
Possible Detail: Competitions and Gambling
I've speculated above on the possibility of people supporting the
testbed by providing some useful services while charging play
money. We shouldn't depend on that. There is a class of applications
which are fun but need (or at least are helped by) money to give the
measure of success or failure. These are games, competitions and
gambling. I believe that done right they can be sufficiently
interesting with play money that people will want to take part: enough
people to test the scalability of the various proposals.
Some of the games that can be played between individuals on the
Internet really need the ability to have a bet to make play really
meaningful: poker and backgammon are examples. The question is: will
betting with "play" money work or will people play frivolously because
the money does not have real value? The key here is that the currency
used is reasonably hard to obtain. If you play badly and lose your
money you can't play. If you win and get a lot of money you can move
into the higher stake games where, presumably, the better and thus
more interesting opponents play. I think it could work quite well.
Beyond that we can produce a lot of gambling games which we know
interest a lot of people and perhaps if they played with play money on
the Internet their kids would eat better: casino games, lotteries,
numbers games, bingo, poker machines, betting on events like horse
races. I have some ideas in this area that can only be done on a
Possible Detail: Getting Things Done
I think the best way to move this forward would be through the IETF.
There would be an ect working group. The rules for taking part in the
testbed would be published as informational or experimental RFCs.
We would need machines to run the Internet Experimental Bank and the
attacker-accessible virtual links. I imagine that many organizations
would be keen for the cachet of providing these services provided that
the banks protocols didn't require human intervention.
I imagine that account numbers will be PGP public keys. Subscribers
claiming to be financial members of the Internet Society will receive
an initial allocation and steady income of Internet-dollars. Other
currencies will be created as required.
The particular electronic commerce protocols experimented with may
require additional infrastructure. For example accounts can be
associated with other keys, for the use with protocols which don't use
RSA, by means of appropriate PGP-signed documents.
Clearly there is a lot of coding to be done, from hack to cryptographic.
I think if we got the support of the IETF then we'd get support from
individuals and organizations. The fact that it would add a certain
respectability to playing games over the Internet would also help to
attract some young and talented contributors.
Without endorsing the particular details above, if you think an
Electronic Commerce Testbed is possible and that you would be prepared
to contribute to an IETF WG on the subject then let me know. With
sufficient interest I will propose the idea to Jeff Schiller (IETF
Security Area Director).