It's time to rethink the illusion of online security

It's time to rethink the illusion of online security

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In February the former security minister revealed a theft by hackers
In February the former security minister revealed a theft by hackers
Photo: Dickson Lee/SCMP

Imagine a world where computers were shut down – a world where you wouldn’t be able to access Facebook, Twitter or even Google. 

This world is perhaps not as unlikely as one would think it is. Recently, at a hacking conference held in Vancouver, Canada, two Chinese hacking teams managed to successfully breach the security of various programs, including Mozilla Firefox, as well as Internet Explorer – two of the top three most commonly used browsers today, with the hackers taking less than one minute to hack into widely used programs such as Adobe Reader. 

This just highlights how fragile our security, and in particular, online security is. An increasing number of mechanisms have been built to ensure safety, with passwords required to contain not only a mixture of numbers as well as uppercase and lowercase letters, as well as some accounts phone verification in order to successfully login. But these superficial mechanisms have done little to detract hackers from breaking into systems, most prominently shown through the 2014 celebrity photo hack. A collection of almost 500 private pictures of celebrities, some containing nudity, were posted online after a hacker broke into the celebrities’ accounts by stealing account information such as passwords. 


Everything is becoming wireless and paper-free but just how safe is cloud computing?


Another case closer to home is that of Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, whose bank account was hacked after she opened an email allegedly from MTR Corporation chairman Raymond Ch’ien Kuo-fung. After she downloaded the attachment from the email, approximately HK$500,000 was stolen. According to police figures, over US$1 billion  is stolen through unauthorized access to computers every year.

Even though technology races ahead, security lags behind. We still remain in the illusion that we are safe when our credit card numbers, bank accounts, private information could potentially be stolen in a matter of seconds. Our precarious situation calls for immediate action from not only online service providers such as Apple and Google in terms of better security systems, but also from the individual – it is time to start rethinking our dependence on technology.

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Online security: fact or fiction?

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