Thought for the day: Safe as houses

It has become increasingly difficult to prevent the bad guys getting hold of your credit card and bank account details.Will it...

Simon Moores  

It has become increasingly difficult to prevent the bad guys getting hold of your credit card and bank account details.Will it ever be possible to secure them completely? Simon Moores thinks probably not



We all know that there’s a strong possibility of becoming a victim of conventional credit card fraud but, as a booming internet economy with more than four million broadband users, we are increasingly worried that Mafia gangsters will steal our bank and credit card details from right under our noses.

Today, I went to the cash point in my local village. The first thing I did was look to see if it was actually working. It runs, like many others on Windows NT and stuffed into the wall of a local estate agent, it crashes with monotonous regularity.

My second action was to run my fingers around the edges of the till and check the card slot. I get funny looks from the people behind me but they are not as friendly with the police as I am and it has become almost second nature for me to take a long hard look at any cash point ,to make sure that it has not picked-up any unusual or well-disguised peripherals that might surrender my card and pin-number to a Romanian émigré in a car nearby.

A staggering one third of the population has been hit by credit card losses at one time or another, according to APACS, a cost to the card companies of £400m each year. There is a whole industry devoted to finding new ways to steal the details from our little plastic friends, with hardly a month passing without some new scheme, invention or idea being used against a vulnerable - and frequently naïve - general public.

When it comes to “phishing” for our more sensitive financial details over the internet we are, it appears, rather less gullible than our American cousins, which hardly comes as a surprise.

Where phishing cost British banks more than £4.5m over the past twelve months a survey of more than 1,000 internet users, conducted by the Ponemon Institute, concluded that losses in the US have reached about $500m (£280m), with a many as 15% of those questioned admitting that they had provided sensitive information including credit card numbers, account information and social security numbers to “spoofed” websites, thinking they were the real thing.

Symantec now estimates that US banks and credit card issuers have lost almost $1.2bn as a consequence of phishing exploits in a single year.

So worried are the UK banks by the rising scale of online threats and scams, that they have collectively launched a new website, to warn the public of the risks of online fraud -  a move which is hardly likely to inspire confidence in the internet as the secure and safe transactional medium, so imaginatively presented in the latest television advert from BT.

How long, I wonder before the bad guys “spoof”, www with some clever e-mail-driven phishing scheme which will invite you or I to enter credit card details or download a piece of software to “secure” our PCs from what looks like the authentic site but, is in, fact a server running out of a small office in Lagos or Leningrad?

Government and the opposition are taking the threat of online fraud more seriously than they were 12 months ago, which is encouraging.

The big challenge, however, remains to catch the bad guys and bring them to justice. Frequently, fraud of this kind is committed somewhere beyond the immediate reach of the police and in places you would be hard pressed to find in any tourist brochure.

Once the local police have arrested the suspect, a conviction may prove to be an uphill forensic and evidential struggle, followed by an effort to convince the local court that breaching the Council of Europe Cyber-crime Convention is a more serious offence than wearing a loud beard in a built-up area.

While we should give government and the finance industry credit for every effort to reverse the tide of fraud which increasingly floods our PCs I am left with a sense that we are all bit-part actors in an episode of  “Dad’s Army” and the only sensible comment comes from Private Fraser. “We’re doomed Captain Mainwaring, doomed.”

Setting the world to rights with the collected thoughts and opinions of leading industry analyst Dr Simon Moores of Zentelligence.

Acting globally, Zentelligence (Research) advises governments, suppliers, business and the media on the evolution, application and delivery of leading-edge technologies, and specialises in the areas of e-government and information security.

For further information on Zentelligence and its research, presentation and analyst services, visit


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