23 September 2006

Technology a double-edged knife

ALMOST 25 years after the commercial success of the PC we now almost consider it indispensable in our every day life. Although it is still a luxury item to a section of the society, it is only a matter of time before they will be exposed and engulfed by this little device through common shared access system. The power of information and communication technology can be accessed even through the telephones which are often considered more affordable to most people.

We have witnessed that technology such as the computers have grown much beyond their initial computing functions. Robotic surgery, electronic match-making, remote-sensing weather forecasts are reality of modern times. Social life is sustained and nourished through electronic devices and channels.

Businesses are considering information processing a necessity. Governments are aiming to meaningful information exchange with citizen for providing public services electronically. Finance industry is showing interest in creating electronic cash and asset related documents and has established secure and widely-covered networks.

True to the nature's law that nothing can be perfect, technology has its negative aspects as well. It has opened up affordable and accessible opportunities to anti-socials and criminals to thrive in the cyber world. Technologies are providing new avenues for crimes both traditional and non-traditional. Traditional crimes such as theft, stalking and money laundering are being done electronically though non-traditional means. Novel crimes such as cybersqatting, phishing and spamming are plaguing the cyber world.

Cyber space is the word commonly used to mean a range of digital avenues such as the Internet, Electronic Bulleting Boards, online services used for exchanging information through electronic network and other digital communication systems. Millions of people have connected their Personal Computers to the Internet. By this they have exposed their sensitive data to millions of others including the cyber criminals.

Internet-based scams and other abuses are exploiting the Internet's unique power to connect us to millions of people all over the world. Businesses worldwide have created internal computer networks to organise and share business information among their employees. Such systems also connect with their customers and collaborate with their partners. Data that needs to be shared between them needs to travel through secure channels. Only those with authority need to have access to data and not simply everyone on the connected network.

The network of people in the digital world is ever increasing, making every single participant more vulnerable. In exchange for the comfort of banking or trading online, one has to risk their identity and privacy. No longer can we remain blissfully ignorant about technology. We are forced to learn to protect our privacy and protect our assets digitised for the digital world. Our home computers can be hacked. Emails accounts can be trespassed and we may even look like spammers when our address book is misused. Our children are more vulnerable to the cyber criminals and they may be caught unaware while surfing online or chatting though message centres.

It is high time that we had some homebound policing in addition to Internet Service Level regulation. With due responsibility on the part of an intermediary service provider, a cohesive self-regulation must take place with industry standards, policies and codes of conduct. An authoritative supervision must hold regime over the application of such standards and procedures.

Due to the inherent nature of the Internet no single regulation can bind the entire global operations. National regulations can be enforced only within national boundaries. This in legal terms is called as 'jurisdiction'; an area within which a law can be enforced. Digital Oman will take you through an enlightening journey of cyber crimes. It shall be both informative as well as entertaining with real world legal cases. Let us get to know the spammers and spoofers with all their motives.

It's time to learn cyber combat techniques to break the cyber invasion of our privacy with Digital Oman.

BC — ‘Before Computers’; AD — ‘After Digital’

HAVE we ever thought about life before the advent of computers? As perceived by a sceptic, BC now shall mean Before Computers while AD means After Digital. Families that gathered around fire in the BCs are now sitting before digital entertainment devices.

Friends and family are just an e-mail or chat-session away in AD. Books are being typed, downloaded and read electronically unlike with scrolls and ink in the BCs.No longer do we pay money for shopping in the ADs; we simply swipe electronic cards. Meeting people is easier than in the BCs; no need to travel; just click the buttons and Voila! Our voice and images reach beyond borders instantly.

Technology has touched social, economical dimensions with the intangibility of the digital products. Not just our wealth or our knowledge, even our identity is commoditised in the electronic era. Money, music, movie, books, shares, photographs are all digitised. E-Books, e-mails, e-readers, e-cash, e-tickets are all part and parcel of normal life in the ADs.

Over one billion people can access the Internet according to a study in 2006 and it is also predicted that the number will continue to rise faster in countries other than the US where the penetration is about 70 per cent. We have been caught unaware by a revolution more subtle than industrial revolution that gave us the modern machines.

It is a revolution that is constantly making a stronger impact through information and communication technologies. Each day a new software or a device or a technology arrives making our lives easier, faster, more functional, more efficient and even more fun. We belong to the GenY (GenerationY) community which has embarked the information highway named so by the former US vice-president Al Gore.

People shop, talk, mail, see, hear, write, vote, consume and even relax with the aid of novel information technologies. This is the 'Information Society', a product of the information era, where the supply of information and their electronic exchange supports both our social and economic lives. It is of common impression that all such technologies are just in their nascent stages.

There is anticipation for more sophistication in the technologies that are in use today. How many of us are we really ready for more? The information society is expanding beyond our homes, offices and national boundaries spanning the globe. Entertainment within the home is competing for our attention with new and new devices everyday.Work at office is seldom complete without searching electronic archives or instant electronic transmission.

Most of us recollect the panic we feel when we forget the PIN number of our bank ATM card. Some of us even recollect rushing to call the bank to stop all payments after finding the ATM card missing. Loosing the passport and being stranded in a foreign land, is a truly a night mare situation. So in total our normal life can come to a grinding halt if we are not identified through information processing systems that require electronic identity documents.We have reached a stage where our activities come to a stand still in the absence of our identity records.

At this point identity shall mean national identity card, health bank account card or even passport like documents. Just revisit how technology has permeated all our life events. To begin with birth and death are recorded electronically.

An identity provided by registering this event forms the fundamental characteristics that is being verified and authenticated all through future. Consider the case of National Identity cards.It is almost impossible to claim your identity without it. You need this identity to avail educational opportunities, drive and own automobiles, operate bank accounts, visit other countries, run your own business or access medical or social benefits. These identity cards are now electronic in the sense that the data about every single individual is recorded electronically and held in a database.

In order to avoid false impersonation, even sensitive data like fingerprints, iris scans, signatures are held in electronic format.Every one shows concern about how the security of these data archives. We are now in a situation where we are vulnerable to our electronic existence. Impersonators and cyber criminals are in the look out for our identities. They indulge in covert activities involving electronic data and transmission.

Through Digital Oman let us trace through cyber crime which is considered to be the new weaponry for war and resulting dominance.

Digital Oman - Column

This column appears in the government news daily of Oman 'Oman Observer' every week. It discusses technology matters ranging from e-government, security, e-finance, e-legislation, cybercrimes among others.

The column has been run by me privately for several years. Throught this blog I shall upload my print articles on Information Technology from now on.

Soliciting your comments on content, structure and style. ----The Author.