In Absentia

"We are not retreating - we are advancing in another direction." - General Douglas MacArthur

Where I wonder is the Government’s eCrime strategy?

A year ago, many of us were asking the same question and at the 2004 eCrime Congress we were given every reason to expect it would appear “Soon” but soon became the Autumn and that in turn became 2005 and still not a sign, not a word of any strategy appearing from the Home Office and I doubt now we’ll see one this side of General Election. Posted by Hello

Should we bothered by this? I certainly think so. Confidence and trust in the Internet as a safe environment is at an all time low and hardly a day passes without some new story appearing on phishing or viruses, identity theft or fraud. In fact, the latter has become so prevalent that it’s a game everyone can play, with the arrival of “Scambaiting”, an exciting new sport for those who might be tempted to have their own back on the people who regularly send us emails from Africa and elsewhere begging for help in washing large amounts of stolen money out of a country via your bank account.

Very soon we will see the official launch of Project Endurance, a joint initiative between government, law enforcement and business to increase awareness and modify behaviour around Internet security amongst the greater population. The campaign is chaired by the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit and is supported by Microsoft, Dell, eBay, Lloyds TSB, HSBC, the CSIA (Central Sponsor for Information Assurance) within the Cabinet Office, and the NISCC (National Infrastructure Security Co-ordination Centre).

Project Endurance, although a step in the right direction has only relatively modest funding and in national terms, it does not replace the need for a fully joined-up strategy to deal with an environment that endangers a significant proportion of the UK population. After all, Government was warned two years ago that the headlong rush towards a Broadband society would bring dangers as well as benefits but it chose to sit on its hands and hope that the IT industry and principally Microsoft would sort out the problem and relieve it of the burden of making decisions and spending money.

What happens I wonder, if one of the large clearing banks decides that it can no longer offer customers the present level of blanket indemnity from online fraud, as a consequence of phishing and identity theft frauds and software exploits? As explained to me recently, the banks are now increasingly worried by the scale of losses they are now experiencing and having pursued an online model over the last five years, closing thousand of branches, including my own, there the question of how they could possibly manage a large scale rejection of virtual banking, if the problem of online fraud continues to rise.

I gather that there is serious discussion of a two-tier online banking system. Tier one simply allows a customer to monitor an account over the Internet and nothing else and with no risk to security. Tier two is a premium service which the customer would pay for and this would charge for the provision of transactional services online, clawing back the risk of fraud through the levy of a charge. Add such ideas to the continued elimination or rationalisation of High Street branches and charging withdrawals of money from ATM machines, then the future of retail banking from a consumer perspective looks rather less than rosy.

Perhaps the best way of understanding the scale of the present online security problem in our country is to describe it as an epidemic that has run out of control. If eighteen months ago, as Broadband became available to consumers for £25 per month, Government had responded to the dangers with a recommended national awareness campaign, we might have been able to inoculate thousands of Personal Computers and educate many of their owners about the dangers from RATS and BOTS and viruses and worms and Trojans and a steadily growing list of online dangers. It didn’t. It preferred to spend millions on eGovernment and encourage the population to achieve a critical mass, a fairy tale virtual world where the public sector and the population met to share the Prime Minister’s vision of UK Online.

Today, to use a well-versed technical expression, the strategy appears to have gone “Tits Up” or become lost in some Whitehall office and there’s a stunning absence of leadership from Westminster, Meanwhile, the Britain that was supposed to be the best possible environment for eCommerce, is looking decidedly like Europe’s best online mugging opportunity.

Any sign of that strategy yet?


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