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Agent Technology for e-Commerce. Chapter 12: Trust, Security and Legal Issues Maria Fasli Challenges.

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agent technology for e commerce

Agent Technology for e-Commerce

Chapter 12: Trust, Security and Legal Issues

Maria Fasli

  • Despite the excitement and the immense potential of software agents there are serious concerns about the associated trust, security and legal issues
  • Users need to:
    • Trust that agents do what they say they do
    • Be confident that their privacy is protected and that the security risks involved in entrusting agents to perform transactions on their behalf are minimized
    • Be assured that any legal issues relating to agents trading electronically are fully covered, as they are in traditional trading practices
perceived risks
Perceived risks
  • Agents represent their users in negotiating for contracts, transactions etc. and act on their behalf, hence a number of risks:
    • Agents have to interact with other entities apart from the user (agents, humans, services), perhaps not trustworthy
    • Mobility increases risk: hostile platform, attacks, etc.
    • An agent runs the risk that other entities will access, copy, or modify its code and data, either by mistake or design
    • Information can be stolen while on transit or in storage
The agent’s identity can be hijacked and misused
  • Nonrepudiation
  • An agent may disappear temporarily or permanently causing loss of revenue – valuable results and data may be lost
  • Users are uncomfortable with the idea of software agents dealing with nonroutine or exceptional situations
  • Reputation
Using agent platforms also presents risks
  • The validity, reliability and trustworthiness of an agent’s code and data cannot be easily determined automatically
  • Malicious agents may succeed in migrating to a platform
  • Information on management and access policies may be altered
  • Denial of service attacks
  • If there is no risk, the question of trust does not arise
  • The act of delegation presupposes trust as it allows passing responsibility for a task to another entity (agent/human)
  • Personal trust: subjective and formed by an individual based on beliefs, observations, reasoning, social stereotypes and past experiences
    • Develops following a positive experience, reduces otherwise
    • Different dispositions towards trust
Impersonal trust: derived from information or experiences as reported by third parties
    • Trusted third parties
    • Rule-based trust (institutions)
    • Reputation mechanisms
  • Trust in e-commerce:
    • Trust in the agent as one’s representative
    • Trust in the marketplace infrastructure
trust in agent technology
Trust in agent technology

A trusting relationship between user and agent must develop

  • There is always reluctance to adopt new technologies, especially technologies that carry high risks
  • As agents are entrusted with private and sensitive information, they need to have built-in mechanisms to protect this information
  • Agents as ‘faceless strangers’
  • ‘Twice removed from the interface’ tasks
  • Agents need to have mechanisms to enable them to decide who to trust and interact with
Gradual building of trust: control vs trust
  • Agent’s behaviour can be controlled in three stages
    • Pre-activity
    • Real-time
    • Post-activity
  • As trust increases, control can be relinquished, until the user completely trusts the agent
trust in the marketplace
Trust in the marketplace
  • Trust in the protocol, marketplace and other participants
  • Trust management and security need to be addressed
  • Electronic marketplaces
    • must address how they intend to provide trust, security, enforce contracts and establish a legal framework
    • Provide safeguards and guarantees against breaches of the protocol
    • Impose sanctions on those who deviate from the rules
electronic institutions
Electronic institutions
  • Human societies have dealt with issues of trust through developing norms which guide, monitor and regulate behaviour
  • Institutions: consist of norms and social constraints
  • Interaction protocols can be augmented with norms
norms institutions and organizations
Norms, institutions and organizations

The relationship between norms, institutions and organizations

from norms to institutions
From norms to institutions

Norms that govern electronic institutions can be distinguished into:

  • Ontological and communication norms: enable clear and unambiguous communication
  • Social interaction norms: dictate interaction protocols and describe correct sequences of activities
  • Norms that impose restrictions on the behaviour of individual agents: normative rules that dictate permissible and acceptable behaviour within the institution, i.e. describe an agent’s obligations and rights
Norms act as deterrents, disincentives or preventative measures against unwanted behaviour
  • Norms that indicate prohibitions can be translated into regulations
  • Norms that indicate desirable behaviour, whenever possible, are translated into restrictions on unwanted behaviour
  • Norms that indicate that certain actions can be performed under certain conditions, can be translated into checking that the conditions have been satisfied prior to allowing the action
But, there are types of unwanted behaviour that cannot be translated into rules which can be easily enforced – react to violations of norms
  • For each norm that an institution would like to enforce, a rule is required that specifies either:
    • The procedure within the institution that enforces the norm; or
    • The conditions that constitute violations of the norm and the consequences, or sanctions imposed by the institution
acting within electronic institutions
Acting within electronic institutions
  • Agents assume roles and commit to adhere to the institutions norms, namely policies
  • Commitments may take the form of contracts
    • Private contracts: drawn between two or more agents
    • Social contracts: a commitment on behalf of an agent towards the institution
Agents can be designed to conform to norms
    • They may be able to perceive and reason about the norms of each different institution and act accordingly
    • They may be designed so that they conform to a wide range of principles and not exhibit malicious behaviour, without being aware of the norms that different institutions impose
  • Inevitably institutions and norms restrict an agent’s autonomy
reputation systems
Reputation systems
  • Reputation encapsulates the distribute knowledge of a set of entities about another and is used to predict future behaviour
  • Reputation systems attempt to create the ‘shadow of the future’
  • A reputation system collects, aggregates and distributes information about the participants’ past behaviour
  • Example: eBay feedback forum
For a reputation system to operate effectively:
  • Participants must be long-lived entities
  • The cost of submitting and distributing feedback must be low
  • Feedback information must be aggregated and presented in a way that enables and guides trusting decisions
  • Clear guidelines on how the rating system operates and how conflicts are resolved
  • The reputation system itself must be reputable and trustworthy
issues in reputation systems
Issues in reputation systems

Eliciting feedback

  • Users may be reluctant to provide feedback
  • Honest reporting is difficult to ensure
  • Unfair ratings
    • Unfairly high ratings (ballot stuffing)
    • Unfairly low ratings (bad-mouthing)
  • Sellers’ discriminatory behaviour towards buyers
    • Negative discrimination
    • Positive discrimination
  • Difficult to elicit negative feedback
Aggregating feedback
  • How is feedback aggregated so that it is useful to participants?
  • Usually simple numerical ratings fail to convey important information about the reported transactions:
    • Did the feedback come from low or high-value transactions?
    • Were the evaluators themselves trustworthy?
Distributing feedback
  • Who has access to the reputation ratings?
  • Problem with the portability of ratings
  • Name changes (or the use of pseudonyms) present a problem
  • Ratings and reports can be easily falsified in centralized reputation systems – use of decentralized systems

Security encompasses mechanisms to ensure:

  • Confidentiality
  • Integrity
  • Authentication
  • Access control
  • Availability
  • Nonrepudiation
  • Logging and auditing

Modern day cryptography the science of information security

  • Cryptology: finding ways to encrypt a piece of information into a ciphertext in a secure way
  • Cryptanalysis: discovering either the plaintext, the algorithm for encrypting it, or the secret key from the ciphertext
  • Cryptography is used in communications, digital signatures, electronic voting, digital cash
  • Cryptosystem: a package of protocols and cryptographic algorithms including the instructions for encoding and decoding messages
symmetric cryptosystems
Symmetric cryptosystems
  • Rely on the use of a secret key to encrypt and decrypt messages
  • A system remains secure provided that:
    • The encryption algorithm should be hard to break
    • The key is secret
  • An encryption scheme is said to be computationally secure if the ciphertext generated meets one or both conditions:
    • The cost of breaking the cipher exceeds the value of the encrypted information
    • The time required to break the cipher exceeds the useful lifetime of the information
  • The larger the key, the better its ability to withstand an exhaustion attack
How do you transport the secret key from the sender to the recipient in a secure way?
  • A key could be selected by one party and then physically delivered to the other one
  • A trusted third party could select the key and physically deliver it to the other two interested parties
  • If the two parties have an entrusted connection to a third trusted party, then they could act as the intermediate
  • Use a public key cryptosystem
asymmetric cryptosystems
Asymmetric cryptosystems
  • Also known as public key cryptosystems
  • No prior access to a secret key is required
  • Depends on mathematical one-way functions; computations are easy to do but very hard to reverse, e.g. factoring
  • Two separate keys:
    • Private key: kept secret
    • Public key: widely distributed
Each entity generates a pair of keys
  • One of the two keys is placed in a public registry or is sent to the other party, this now becomes the public key
  • The second key remains private
  • If B wants to communicate a message to A, it uses A’s public key to encrypt the message and sends it over. A is the only one who can decrypt the message, having the private key
  • Depending on the application, the sender uses either its own private key, the recipient’s, or both, to perform some type of cryptographic function
  • Encryption/decryption
  • Digital signatures
  • Key exchange
  • Cryptography for confidentiality and privacy
  • Cryptography for authentication, data integrity and nonrepudiation
agents and privacy
Agents and privacy
  • Privacy denotes a condition or state in which a natural or legal person is more or less inaccessible to others, on the physical, psychological or informational plane
  • Here, privacy denotes a state of limited accessibility on the informational plane
  • Agent technology plays a mixed role:
    • agents can render their users more vulnerable to loss of privacy
    • they can also be used as a means to safeguard privacy
  • Anonymity offers a form of privacy and is characterized by the fact that other parties do not know one’s identity
  • Anonymity may be desirable in certain situations
  • Types of anonymity
    • Traceable anonymity
    • Untraceable anonymity
    • Untraceable pseudonymity
    • Traceable pseudonymity
  • Successful anonymization may be difficult to achieve and usually relies on third parties
Techniques that facilitate anonymity, may incidentally facilitate and support illegal and criminal activities and even encourage and dishonest and antisocial behaviour
protecting privacy
Protecting privacy
  • Protecting sensitive, confidential and private information is imperative
  • A number of approaches:
    • Place only minimal confidential information in an agent
    • Use cryptographic techniques
    • Use secure protocols when interacting with others
    • Provide the agent with appropriate protective strategies
    • Use access control policies to restrict an agent’s access to resources and information while at a host
Place no confidential information in the agent
  • Use anonymizer servers that may help prevent traffic analysis of the user’s actions and requests (and those of mobile agents)
  • Use a new agent for each task
  • Fit agents with privacy enhancing technologies such as an identity protector
agents and the law
Agents and the law
  • Agents in e-commerce engage in a number of activities that are significant from a legal perspective:
    • They access computer systems, networks and data
    • They retrieve and distribute information
    • They mediate personal and business relations
    • They negotiate for and buy and sell goods and services
  • The use of agents that conduct business on behalf of natural or legal persons raises issues with regard to accountability and liability
interested parties
Interested parties

Parties that are involved in the use of agents whose interests are affected by any legal considerations

  • Agent designer/developer
  • Agent supplier or provider
  • User
  • Third parties
  • Providing a legal framework for guiding and regulating agent-based interactions and exchanges is important to the success and wider adoption of the technology
  • Who can be held liable and on what grounds?
    • Tort or wrongful acts
    • Privacy and data protection
    • Intellectual property rights
    • Product liability
    • Contractual liabilities
    • Criminal responsibility
  • International nature of transactions also poses a problem
current legal frameworks
Current legal frameworks

United States:

  • UCITA, UETA and E-sign


  • UECA

Agents do not feature in any European initiatives or current legislation

agents as legal persons
Agents as legal persons
  • Legal systems recognize two kinds of persons: natural and legal
  • Contracts are formed between these types of persons
  • But agents do not have a legal status – this poses a problem:
    • Can agents close contracts?
    • Only legal or natural persons can close contracts (they need to have will and understand intentions)
    • To act as one’s representative an agent needs to have contractual capability
    • Unless the will or intention to perform action is distinguished from the action itself
software agents as e persons
Software agents as e-persons
  • Can they be considered as legal personas? e-persons?
    • This would solve some problems regarding the validity of the declarations and contracts
  • But:
    • First we would have to answer what constitutes an agent
    • Agents must have a residence or domicile (their users’?)
  • Agent registers could be set up and agents could have a unique id – this raises some privacy issues: who has access to the registry?
  • They could also be granted by their users a patrimony
  • Their operations could be covered by insurance policies