Spectrum Auction software – one decade of experience

The start of year 2020 is a good opportunity to look back at the last decade. In this article we will particularly look at our spectrum auction software and how it evolved in the recent years.

First generation spectrum auction software

Considerations when using Java programming language

Back in 2010, Windows XP was still largely popular. Its final release SP3 dates back to 2008. Although Microsoft had introduced Windows Vista already in 2006, many companies decided to skip this release. They went for the next largely successful release, Windows 7, released in October 2009.

At that time, we planned to base the initial release of our auction software on the robust Java technology. Java Remote Method Invocation combined with X.509 private key infrastructure provided superb security and reliability. Java also guaranteed platform independence, a feature required by many auctioneers looking at software tools to help them run an auction.

However, not any Java-based technology would have been a suitable choice. For instance, the experts perceived Java Applets gradually more and more as a source of many security vulnerabilities. Ultimately, the industry leaders disabled Java Applets per default and later even banned them from most of the modern browsers.

Application using Java Web Start
Windows Prompt to use Java Application

Ultimately, we decided to go with the Java Web Start technology. It provided an easy integration with the most common internet browsers. Our engineering team could provide highly functional auction software without compromising the security, an issue that existed with similar, but technically very different, Java Web Applets.

Rich experience in many auction projects

Specure used this technology as a basis of many successful Spectrum auctions throughout the years. We were also incrementally improving the software solution and were adapting it to the newest standards and versions of Java and Windows. Our customers kept using our Java-based Spectrum Auction software up to 2017.

Legacy spectrum auction software, bidding screen of the CCA auction format
Detail of the Bidder’s interface, around 2016.

During 2017, we started to develop the new generation, native web client. So, had the time come to abandon the legacy Java technology for good?

Second-generation spectrum auction software

In 2017, we started to develop the new generation, native web application. What encouraged us to do so were the advancements in the modern software development frameworks. Technologies such as Angular and Node.js provide unprecedented level of user experience. Also, the feedback from our customers and bidders using the software challenged us to make improvements. While the legacy application was very robust and reliable, it also felt a bit cumbersome to use and less intuitive.

Balancing reliability and modern user experience

On one hand, the reasons to update the software were tangible. On the other hand, we did not want to give up the reliability and the proven technology we have used for many years. Finally, we took on the challenge and spend several months on rebuilding the user interface. However, we kept the java as the backend technology. This enabled us to reuse some key components such as the winner determination algorithm of the Combinatorial Clock Auction (CCA). Note, the winner determination algorithm is a complicated piece of software code. External auditors validated the algorithm by comparing the results of our software to an industry party benchmark. For this reason, it made a lot of sense to keep the original algorithm and reuse it in the updated software platform.

Security of the spectrum auction software

Security is another key aspect of a high-stake spectrum auction software. When designing the new solution, we kept the same idea of a secure login with multi-factor authentication. For instance, in addition to user name and password combination, a dedicated client certificate for the respective bidder is needed.

Electronic auction platform, login screen with two-factor aucthentication.
Login screen with two-factor authentication

All data is encrypted during transmission. The authenticity of the parties is verified using electronic certificates.

The auction software uses many industry standards such as X.509 private key infrastructure alongside with state-of the art industrial encryption. For any project, Specure recommends using our own private certification authority. This further greatly reduces the risk of using compromised certificates and the associated encryption keys. Whitelisting of dedicated IP addresses is yet another security measure. Whitelisting proves it difficult for Denial-of-service (DoS) types of attack to succeed, since the attackers source IP address is filtered out at the network routing level.

We regularly undergo security testing on several levels. We used a combination of the available security tools to search for known vulnerabilities, such as OWASP Top 10 Web Application Security Risks. Our software passed several formal security audits by renowned security companies, too.

Modern user interface

The updated platform features a simple, yet feature rich user interface. For each user type, the bidder, auctioneer and the administrator, a separate web-based client is available. Each participants can, if required, utilize several parallel user logins to monitor the auction progress.

The customizable header provides the most useful information about the auction status in a compact form. The user information helps the user understand their role and access right within the platform. The menu provides navigation and easy access to all available views and actions. Finally, the content area provides context-dependent information, such as upcoming round schedule, current prices or round results.

New interface of the spectrum auction software.
Bidder’s user interface

Customizable reporting

One of the most important features of a spectrum auction software is the reporting tool. During the auction, the tool can generate many useful reports for the bidders and the auctioneers. The platform ensures that everybody receives relevant information in line with the defined transparency level. After the auction, there is an audit trail of every action in the system available for the auctioneer.

Information available to the auctioneer as well as to the bidders is customizable to a great extent in the auction settings template. In the case that some of the requirements cannot be accomplished by a the customization options available, Specure will modify the software accordingly to accommodate this feature.

The auctioneer and the observer have available a graphical terminal displaying the course of the auction in real time. Specure Auctions provides export functionality in several common data formats. Exact requirements about what information should be available to bidders at which point on time need to be defined during the project.

Upon the completion of the auction, the auction platform will automatically provide the name of the winning bidders, winning combinations and the winning amounts to the auctioneer. The auctioneer can then approve the auction results and make them public.

Proven in practice

Overall, the updated version of the Specure Auctions platform has been used in several auction projects and it received a positive feedback from our customers. the users, auctioneers and bidders alike, also appreciated the more intuitive user interface, possibility of advanced customizations and the overall improved user experience.

Conclusion

Specure’s team has a rich experience with spectrum auctions delivery and spectrum auction software in particular. We have continuously worked on improving our software, incorporating the feedback from customers and users. The flexibility of the software platform proved useful is several auction projects. This experience makes us confident that Specure Auctions is the right choice for upcoming project of any size and complexity.

Image Copyright: Adobe Stock | ribkhan

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