Sender Bond Theory vs

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2007-09-10 Print this article Print

. Practice"> The sender bond is an old idea. It may have some beautiful economic theory behind it (look at all those integrals!) but there are a number of major technical problems with it from the standpoint of practical Internet engineering. Heres one technical problem that Joseph Heller would have appreciated: You cant enforce the bond through the e-mail system unless you have an authentication process. How is the system supposed to know who to pay? In fact, youd need an authentication system far stronger than DKIM, which only authenticates the domain of the sender, not the user.
Turn on your imagination and envision sender bonds being implemented in the real world. How soon would it be before gangs all over the world enlisted botnets into harvesting bond proceeds by massively signing up for bonded e-mail, using fake bonds and other social engineering attacks? The system would need to be resistant to all of these attacks, or otherwise its just trading off one fraud system for another, and the new one would give direct remuneration to the attackers.
Then theres the absence of a practical micropayments system. The only payments system in the world that has a chance of handling the volume the authors propose is the credit card system. The capacity of that network is possible because of transaction fees that would make micropayments impractical. Even so, we all know its not as secure as it could be, and in an effort to make it more secure, new costs are being imposed on merchants. Getting back to the DKIM end of this, its also mandatory in any article that touches on the subject of SMTP authentication to point out, as Koomey, Van Alstyne and Brynjolfsson did not, that any such scheme, including DKIM, is inadequate all by itself. Just because you know who the person is doesnt mean you want their e-mail. They could be a pornographer or some other such undesirable type. Popular Web sites are being used in a new attack thats targeting eBay accounts. Click here to read more. You need to combine authentication with reputation and accreditation services in order to get value out of them. Its not clear if this is a major problem for Koomey, Van Alstyne and Brynjolfssons plan: Is a bond required only if the reputation is above a certain level? These considerations could get complicated and political, the worst possible situation. The authors blame the slow uptake of DKIM on a standard "chicken and egg" problem, but its not really that. Its just that change is unpleasant and, unless the payoff is obvious, risky. DKIM may yet become ubiquitous now that a formal standard has been issued, but I think everyones expectations are a little lower than back when Bill and I could see the end of the spam problem. Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer has worked in and written about the computer industry since 1983. Check out eWEEK.coms Security Center for the latest security news, reviews and analysis. And for insights on security coverage around the Web, take a look at eWEEKs Security Watch blog.

Larry Seltzer has been writing software for and English about computers ever since—,much to his own amazement—,he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983.

He was one of the authors of NPL and NPL-R, fourth-generation languages for microcomputers by the now-defunct DeskTop Software Corporation. (Larry is sad to find absolutely no hits on any of these +products on Google.) His work at Desktop Software included programming the UCSD p-System, a virtual machine-based operating system with portable binaries that pre-dated Java by more than 10 years.

For several years, he wrote corporate software for Mathematica Policy Research (they're still in business!) and Chase Econometrics (not so lucky) before being forcibly thrown into the consulting market. He bummed around the Philadelphia consulting and contract-programming scenes for a year or two before taking a job at NSTL (National Software Testing Labs) developing product tests and managing contract testing for the computer industry, governments and publication.

In 1991 Larry moved to Massachusetts to become Technical Director of PC Week Labs (now eWeek Labs). He moved within Ziff Davis to New York in 1994 to run testing at Windows Sources. In 1995, he became Technical Director for Internet product testing at PC Magazine and stayed there till 1998.

Since then, he has been writing for numerous other publications, including Fortune Small Business, Windows 2000 Magazine (now Windows and .NET Magazine), ZDNet and Sam Whitmore's Media Survey.

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