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Internet Commerce (Part 2 of 2)



Doing Business on the Web

The Internet can no longer be ignored as a serious business tool.  The World Wide Web has captured the imagination of business professionals worldwide.  They now have another entertaining medium in which to showcase their storefronts and products, using text, a colorful company logo, video, music and sophisticated graphics.  Better yet, they can GET PAID instantaneously with EPS (Electronic Payment Systems) for their goods and services.  The Web is a wide-open marketplace offering a hospitable and compelling sales environment for novices.  Technically, it is raw, dynamic and exciting.  Companies have had tremendous successes on the Web and, yes, there have been failures.  You are not guaranteed a profit, but –- as far as anyone can tell –- the potential for profit is unlimited.  The bottom line is that the audience is a huge and highly desirable one for businesses –- well-educated, high wage earners with money to spend.  Also, in today’s world, information is a valuable commodity.  If used effectively, it can be the key to faster, smarter, and more efficient business practices.

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The Future of Internet Commerce

The WWW is still evolving and suffers from a lack of bandwidth and speed.  Many Internet users are surfing at modem speeds of 56Kbps with lower resolution monitor settings.  Graphic-intensive websites will try the patience of those users as they wait for those wonderful graphics to appear.  In addition, the media has put fear into the hearts of consumers concerning Internet commerce.  People are reluctant to send their credit card number or bank account information over a network that they really don’t understand.  The general buying public has no clue about electronic payment systems, and they have a difficult time believing they are secure.  Nevertheless, the future for online business is very bright indeed.  Everyone is preparing.  Retailers and banks across the country are rushing to establish systems that will secure consumer trust.  The government is trying to come up with standards for EPS’s, and is monitoring commercial traffic over the Internet.  The current commercial online services continue to expand their shopping areas, and nationwide, city-by-city, telephone lines are being upgraded to handle the increasingly sophisticated video, graphics, text and sound commonly found on today’s webpages.

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The Commerce Revolution

Several technologies have been specifically developed to address the issues of privacy and security on the Internet.  The big breakthrough that has made electronic commerce possible is Public Key Cryptography.  This is the science of scrambling messages so that they cannot be read.  Ordinary cryptography schemes rely on a high-tech "secret decoder ring" which is needed by both the sender and the reader in order to read messages.  Public key cryptography splits the decoder ring into two parts (called keys) –- one key is made public (the public key) and the other is carefully guarded (the private key).  The two keys always come in pairs.  If the private key is ever compromised, the whole system breaks down and transmission is refused.

PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) is a program that makes it possible to confidentially send electronic mail and files, using military-grade encryption.  Because PGP is extremely secure and not controlled by any governmental or standards organizations, the program is attractive to businesses and individuals that need or want secure transmission capability over the Internet.

The Secure Sockets Layer Protocol (SSL) is a non-proprietary communications protocol also designed to provide privacy over the Internet.  SSL provides a reliable, private, authenticated communication channel between the browser and the webserver, and is designed so that websurfers do not need to take any special action before being able to take advantage of this encryption technique.

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What You Need for Internet Commerce

There are three required components for Internet commerce transactions:

  1. The web visitor must be using a SSL-capable browser such as Netscape 3.0 or higher, Microsoft Explorer 3.0 or higher.
  2. The Internet Service Provider must be using a SSL capable web server such as Netscape Commerce Server, Microsoft Merchant Server, or Apache with one of the many implementations of SSL available for Apache.
  3. The domain owner (your_company.com) must have a site certificate.  Certificates (the private key) encrypt the communication session between the user's browser and the webserver.  Site certificates are only issued for a domain by company name and information.  In other words, XYZ.com better be The XYZ Company or the transaction is refused.  Currently, VeriSign and Thawte Consulting are the leading issuers of Certificates and are whom we would recommend at this time.  There is an annual fee associated with the Certificate, and interested parties can obtain more detailed information at http://www.verisign.com/ and http://www.thawte.com/.

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Choosing an Online Agent

Now that we've succeeded in taking the user's purchase information in a private and secure environment, what happens next?  Basically, we have three options:

  1. Send an email containing the order and purchase information to the site owner for offline processing.  This defeats the purpose of taking encrypted orders since email is not a secure protocol.
  2. Use PGP technology to send encrypted orders.  This means that the order gets encrypted at the server level and requires a decrypter at the user level (you).  There are PGP programs that can be added to your existing mail software to code and decode messages, and there is a PGP mail package that can be purchased as a stand-alone product.  You will still have to process the credit card transaction as if you took the order over the telephone.
  3. Use an online merchant services agent, such as CyberCash.  In this manner, the credit card information is never "written" to the webserver’s hard disk.  The payment information is encrypted –- in real-time –- and sent to the online merchant service agent.  CyberCash, as an example, has already established processing arrangements with most merchant services organizations and will process the sales transaction for you, in much the same manner as your card service merchant does now.  The server will then e-mail you a copy of the order without the credit card information, creating a completely secure and protected environment.  There is an additional fee per transaction for this service.  More detailed information is available at http://www.cybercash.com/.[ Return to the top ]


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