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EDITOR’S BLOG: How safe do YOU feel online?

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The time I really started to get worried was when they nabbed the 13-year-old kid who had hacked into the US airforce’s computer system.

Reading between the lines, if this spotty oik had clicked his mouse on the red buttons we could all have all been flashed into radioactive ash by a hormonally inspired actuation of the apocalypse. Bloody kids have always been bloody kids, but at least in my day the destruction was limited to whatever could be wrought by a go-cart sporting old pram wheels and a couple of borrowed planks from the local building site.

And that’s the problem with computers. People of my generation can usually use them proficently enough to type angry letters to the local paper about aforementioned bloody kids and keep accurate records of our expenditure on gardening equipment. Young people (and now I mean very young – as in eight years upwards), on the other hand, know them as intimately as their own reflections and, more alarmingly, use them as instinctively as their five senses. What was that website my granddaughter was mucking about on with her chums the other day? MI5? MI6? That brings a whole new resonance to ‘I Spy’.

More prosaically, though, what about our expenditure online? I tentatively bought my first airline tickets over the Internet about seven years ago and then spent three weeks worrying if my details had been purloined by the Albanian mafia or the marketing team at ’Reader’s Digest’. They hadn’t, of course, and I was spared visits from ferocious Balkan gangsters and an inundation of lorry-loads of free plastic car key fobs with my initials stamped on them.

But my doubts persist about the online arena – as they do for lots of us. A recent survey of 1,200 people by security firm Secerno, which claims to be the leader in data technology, threw up some very interesting facts and figures, casting doubt on the online merchants’ reassuring words about 128-bit encryption, ‘total security’ and the like. In fact, after reading the survey’s results I got the same feeling as I do in a glass lift that shoots up the outside of a tall building – slightly sweaty in a nervous kind of way.

Indeed, no less than 83% of us are concerned about the security of our bank and credit card data, and for 76% of us personal details are the biggest worry. Not surprisingly, disclosure of a problem was also a thorny issue, as 82% of respondents expected immediate notification from their bank or building society if their data was lost. If you think this sounds far-fetched, just remember that Nationwide employee who ‘lost’ a laptop with thousands of customers’ details stored on it.

The facts and figures revealed by the survey go on, but they show a distinct unease about the wealth of information about our wealth, and other aspects of our lives, that exists in the form of electronic pulses in virtual reality. Paul Davie, founder and chief executive officer of Secerno, illuminates our deepest anxieties when he says: “Cases (of criminality) have had an impact on the attitudes of consumers in both the online and offline worlds… and almost half of our survey would never put information online and a quarter of all of them claim never to use the Internet.”

He continues: “There is an obvious need for the Government to rebuild public confidence here and a new legal framework is needed in Europe to force disclosure of breaches in online security.” But there is scope for hope: “In this day and age, new data-security solutions can enable corporate-level institutes to develop a secure environment, improve operations and ultimately save time, money and their valued customers.”

Well, trust a techie to start talking techie when it comes to the crunch, but what I think Davie is saying is that we need and deserve the best in security when we put our money online. We work too hard for it to be hijacked, along with our identities, by a bunch of digital Dick Turpins who don’t even have to saddle a horse these days to pocket their loot.







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