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USPO & Digital Postage/E-Cash Project

The US Post Office just killed a project that would have created a 
digital postage/e-cash system.  This would have been a digital 
replacement for the Pitney-Bose style Postage Metering machines.  To use 
a PM machine one has to take the entire machine physically to a Postal 
Station and purchase some fixed dollar amount of postage.  The Postal 
clerk unseals and unlocks the machine, dials in the amount of postage 
purchased and then relocks and reseals the machine.  

This mechanical system would have been replaced by a serial-port dongle 
and a piece of software.  The dongle would contain an EEPROM in a 
replacable button (made by Dallas Semiconductor) into which would be 
loaded data indicating the amount of postage that had been purchased and 
not yet used.  The software package would be able to print the address, 
postage seal, routing codes, etc directly on the envelope via a laser 
printer and decrement the amount of available postage left in the 
dongle.  In the original test, customers would have to take the dongle 
to a Postal Station to purchase additional postage, but the ultimate 
goal was to have been to have a commerical dial-up service available 
that one could dial into and purchase additional postage directly. 

A proof-of-concept prototype was developed in VB and a production 
prototype was then developed in VC++.  Unfortunately the crypto wasn't 
very strong.  The USPO contracted with Carnege-Mellon to try and break 
the system and they were able to within a couple of weeks.  USPO then 
killed the project.

Dale H.