When IT Meets Politics

Oct 5 2009   5:22PM GMT

How real is the threat of e-crime?

Philip Virgo Profile: Philip Virgo


In 1995, during the run up to the Atlanta Olympics, I attended a meeting at which security and protection against malpractice were identified as central to the future of the Internet. That scare was premature. Now we are being told that organised crime has finally caught up with the opportunities on offer and time has run out. Is that any more true?


The criminals, cyber-terrorists and their malware suppliers are said to be spending more on innovative R&D than the mainstream software and security vendors are spending on vulnerability removal. Their mechanisms for co-operation along and across their supply chains are certainly superior – unhampered by regulatory, competition authority or other legal restrictions.


But are we really facing melt down?


Is the threat yet sufficient to cause the main boards of Internet and financial service providers, fixed and mobile operators or on-line retail and gaming operators to place this among their priorities for lobbying politicians?


Is it sufficient for them to consider placing security above ease of use in their on-line services?


Is it sufficient for them to instruct their security operations to co-operate with each other and with law enforcement to take out the predators?


Is it sufficient for them to instruct their legal departments to similarly co-operate in taking out any regulators who stand in the way of such co-operation?


I suspect not.


But I know that some are beginning to ask the question.


Tomorrow evening James Brokenshire, the shadow e-crime minister,  is due to have a consultation meeting organsided by the Conservative Technology Forum, on e-crime matters at the National Computing Centre in Manchester. If his previous consultation meetings are anything to go by, he will take the opportunity to ask his audience some searching questions.


I hope these will be among them.


If so, I doubt he will get an immediate answer. But I do hope his audience will be willing to ask if their boards would provide anonymised answers to a suitably credible high level questionnaire. 


At least we will then know how seriously the issues are being taken.


Even if it is true that losses have trebled over the past year, that might still be chicken-feed compared to the cost of an over-reaction that frightens consumers back into physical transactions.


Alternatively, if growth has indeed faltered because consumers and small firms are increasingly reluctant to go on-line, perhaps the time has come for more whole-hearted exercises in co-operation to take out malpractice, not just to “increase awareness” – alias further frighten the customers.


We need a reality check.

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