With the onset of the Information Age, our nation is becoming increasingly dependent upon network communications. Computer-based technology is significantly impacting our ability to access, store, and distribute information. Among the most important uses of this technology is electronic commerce: performing financial transactions via electronic information exchanged over telecommunications lines. A key requirement for electronic commerce is the development of secure and efficient electronic payment systems. The need for security is highlighted by the rise of the Internet, which promises to be a leading medium for future electronic commerce.
Electronic payment systems come in many forms including digital checks, debit cards, credit cards, and stored value cards. The usual security features for such systems are privacy (protection from eavesdropping), authenticity (provides user identification and message integrity), and no repudiation (prevention of later denying having performed a transaction) .
The type of electronic payment system focused on in this paper is electronic cash. As the name implies, electronic cash is an attempt to construct an electronic payment system modelled after our paper cash system. Paper cash has such features as being: portable (easily carried), recognizable (as legal tender) hence readily acceptable, transferable (without involvement of the financial network), untraceable (no record of where money is spent), anonymous (no record of who spent the money) and has the ability to make "change." The designers of electronic cash focused on preserving the features of untraceability and anonymity. Thus, electronic cash is defined to be an electronic payment system that provides, in addition to the above security features, the properties of user anonymity and payment untraceability..
WHAT IS ELECTRONIC CASH?
We begin by carefully defining "electronic cash." This term is often applied to any electronic payment scheme that superficially resembles cash to the user. In fact, however, electronic cash is a specific kind of electronic payment scheme, defined by certain cryptographic properties. We now focus on these properties.
The term electronic commerce refers to any financial transaction involving the electronic transmission of information. The packets of information being transmitted are commonly called electronic tokens. One should not confuse the token, which is a sequence of bits, with the physical media used to store and transmit the information.
We will refer to the storage medium as a card since it commonly takes the form of a wallet-sized card made of plastic or cardboard. (Two obvious examples are credit cards and ATM cards.) However, the "card" could also be, e.g., a computer memory.
A particular kind of electronic commerce is that of electronic payment. An electronic payment protocol is a series of transactions, at the end of which a payment has been made, using a token issued by a third party. The most common example is that of credit cards when an electronic approval process is used. Note that our definition implies that neither payer nor payee issues the token.
The electronic payment scenario assumes three kinds of players:
• a payer or consumer, whom we will name Alice.
• a payee, such as a merchant. We will name the payee Bob.
• a financial network with whom both Alice and Bob have accounts. We will informally refer to the financial network as the Bank.