Systems allowing individuals to anonymously pay for goods or services by transmitting a cash number from one computer to another are permitting business exchanges through the use of anonymous digital cash certificates. One feature of digital cash certificates is that, as with tangible dollar bills, they are anonymous and reusable. Although credit cards can be traced to a single owner, as with real money digital cash certificates of varying denominations can be recycled. When an individual purchases digital cash certificates, money is withdrawn from a bank account. The certificate is then transferred to a vendor to pay for a product or service. The vendor can then deposit the cash number in any bank or retransmit it to another vendor, and the cycle of transmission can continue.
Combined with encryption and/or anonymous remailers, digital cash allows cybercriminals to make transactions with complete anonymity. This is a common means of not only trafficking in stolen intellectual property obtained on the Web but also extorting money from targets.
In May 1993, for example, Timothy May wrote a piece about an organization called BlackNet that would hypothetically engage in commerce using a combination of anonymous digital cash, anonymous remailers, and public key cryptography. Although May said that he wrote the piece to disclose the difficulty of “bottling up” new technologies, rumors on the Internet spread that actual BlackNets were being used by criminals for selling stolen trade secrets.
Jupitermedia Corporation. Digital Cash. [Online, September 1, 1996.] Jupitermedia Corporation Website. http://www.webopedia.com/TERM/D/digital_cash.html; May, T.C. BlackNet Worries. In P. Ludlow (ed.), High Noon on the Electronic Frontier. Boston: MIT Press, 1996.