In Which We Serve

News from the CBI that 97% of UK companies regard terrorism as a matter of great or significant concern comes as a surprise to me. The atmosphere of concern in the physical world now appears to have merged with the fears experienced in the virtual world of the Internet and where over-hyped predictions of a cyber-jihad have come to nothing, business continues to be startled by shadows.
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In the coming months, I'm in Jordan, Oman and possibly Saudi Arabia on projects that either involve eGovernment or information security. I like to think I'm as concerned about safety and security as the next man but I also believe that fear of terrorism and crime, virtual or otherwise can be profitable and frequently useful to those who might wish to exploit popular worries and company budgets. As an example of this, we saw last week on television and read in the media the sense of outrage expressed by journalists, at the ease at which a person could carry a metal thermos flask, past security on to a channel tunnel train. After all, who knows how deadly a cup of hot coffee can be in a confined space?

Certainly, where information security is involved, we have to be on our guard constantly these days and last week's news of a problem at Cahoot, the UK Internet bank, drew media attention to the perceived and rather exaggerated risks of online shopping and banking.

With more and more companies relying on their online presence for a much larger proportion of their sales revenue than at any other time in the past, certain industries, such as banking, bidding and betting, are increasingly sensitive to the risks of extortion, information theft and Denial of Service attacks. Terrorism, I warned a year ago, prefers the melodramatic but organised crime prefers cash and the Internet offers increasingly entrepreneurial and innovative gangs a relatively low-risk and high reward strategy of conducting operations against large business institutions that would have been impossible at any other time in the past.

At sea, we can be confident in our Navy's choice of Operating System for Type-45 destroyers and although my good friend Michael Fabricant MP, attempted to pin Armed Forces Minister, Adam Ingram to the deck with some incisive questions on the Government's decision to deploy Windows 2000 as a first line of defense for the nation, the Minister swiftly passed the responsibility back to the defense contractor, quite coincidentally, the same company that recently gave the Canadians the submarine, Chicoutimi, BAE Systems.

In the last seven days, I've wandered alone through the corridors of Westminster and flown an aircraft, hauling a banner over a union march through the centre of Birmingham. Those two experiences only reinforce my view that while one can take sensible precautions, there is very little to stop the determined on a mission.

As a nation, we used to have a 'sang froid' reputation and a stiff-upper lip. More recently, we've become a Health and Safety driven society that worries over the Internet, the risk of falling headstones and a fear of shadows. So while we build security into business, digital and otherwise, let's not make it the obsession, which it's fast in danger of becoming.


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