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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 25th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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Is the internet too dangerous?

29 April 2021

The streets of East Los Angeles are said to be a dangerous place to stroll.

According to reports, you risk being assaulted, mugged or even murdered, should you be wearing the wrong coloured clothing or accidentally offend the wrong person. Run a business there and your risk of being robbed at the barrel of a gun is much higher than in other parts of the developed world.

Who would want to hang around a place like that if you had the option?

Well guess what?

It's starting to look as if the internet is an even more dangerous place to hang around or do business in these days.

What am I talking about?

Well if you think it would be dangerous wandering around the streets of East LA or strolling through parts of South America with a bulging wad of cash in your back pocket then that's peanuts compared to the world of cyberspace.

We may see ruthless gangs kidnapping groups of tourists or even school-children then demanding huge ransoms in some third-world countries but the same thing is happening all over the world in the form of ransomware attacks. Companies and individuals are having their data encrypted, unless they pay the demands of the evil sods behind such schemes, they risk losing it forever.

Even worse, I see that in the USA hackers have scooped up a huge swathe of data from police and now threaten to disclose the names of secret informants unless they're paid a subustantial sum of money. Backups are not going to dig those cops out of the hole they find themselves in!

Much of this cybercrime is apparently performed by well-organised criminal gangs operating from countries where any chance of law-enforcement can be mitigated by paying off the relevant authorities. Thanks to the fact that the Net is now a global thing and that anyone can jump online armed with a toolkit of evil exploits, we are all at risk.

Even the big-tech companies are benefiting from some of the crimes that take place online.

I've seen Google openly running ads for fraudulent enterprises, many months after those ads have been reported thousands of times by those affected. It seems that Google only cares about their own bottom line and if you've got a dollar, they've got the ad-space for your evil activities.

As is the case in the real-world, the criminal gangs are just part of the story -- there are now huge amounts of state-sponsored cybercrime taking place. China, N.Korea, Russia, the USA and many other countries have their own elite "cyber armies" that are challeged with the task of infiltrating their enemies' (and sometimes their allies') computer networks to gain vital intelligence.

Those of us who are mere "citizens" of the Net can do little but stand back and watch all this dishonesty and crime take place.

Of course we must be eternally vigilant for malware, social engineering attacks and other attempts to steal from us but ultimately we are at the mercy of others and so long as there is money to be made, those attacks will never stop coming.

This is one of the reasons I don't bother with a smart-phone. I don't want access to my bank accounts, my credit card details and the minutiae of my life stored in a single place, protected only by Google's promises of Android security or Apple's crumbly walled garden.

Whilst I do have a very high online profile, I keep as much of the really important stuff as I can, well and truly offline.

Sadly, there is only so much you can do offline these days. Just try dealing with the IRD or paying bills the "old fashioned" way and see how you get on for example.

Given the levels of disruption and risk created by all this cyber-crime I really do think it's time we re-considered the whole issue of online security and perhaps created a new architecture that can mitigate many of those risks. Failure to do this could see the utility of the Net so compromised that people actually do go back to lower-tech options for crucial transactions and activities.

Any suggestions?

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