The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cyber extortionists

Intelligence sometimes works like a double-edged sword. The latest of the latest intelligent Internet security theories invite the more sharper hacking-brains. Worldpay, the company that handles online shopping, debit and credit card payments, is under attack from a group of unknown hackers disrupting millions of online retail transactions around the world. Orders received by their 30,000 clients, ranging from MNCs such as Vodafone and Sony to numerous small online retailers, had almost dried up. A clogged system, processing riddles and slowed transactions had wrecked havoc and compelled the giant online e-commerce outfit to bite the dust. Some customers, who had lost a significant amount of their business since the attack, went to other payment processors.

Although Worldpay is doing all that it can do to combat the attack, it seems that there is no immediate respite from the hands of these malicious hackers. Actually, when the enemy is unknown, known technique seldom works as the perfect antidote.

Thus, a particular company should not be blamed for falling victim to such an attack. The lacunae of the Internet system as a whole should be condemned for this. Any Internet-oriented business, whatever security measures it has taken so far, is vulnerable to hacking. And this is so deep a loophole, that not a single security expert on earth can embark on a foolproof system with confidence. If at all the security is claimed to be foolproof at the source level, it cannot be maintained properly at the 'most exposed' customer level. As 'zombie computers' flood the targeted website with useless 'junk' data, fighting distributed denial of service or DdoS attacks becomes a tedious and costly affair. It also takes time to identify the attacker and deal with the nature of the newest attack.

Taking advantage of the cheaper and easier anonymity option, organised hackers have even gone on to ask for huge ransoms against the release of hacked passwords or jammed databases. Either pay or get robbed. You can call them extortionists in new avatars. An estimate says that the damage to the global economy in terms of both denial of service and productivity losses reached over $10 billion in a month alone. Even if law-enforcement authorities are aware of many such attacks, they cannot start acting without an explicit request from the victim, because companies themselves are unwilling to admit they are being targeted. So, customers, the end-users, who are providing card numbers knowingly or unknowingly, are definitely the losers.

If a top-guarded security network like Worldpay gets hacked twice in a year, there must be ample reason to rethink the existing system card money transfer. Today it is Worldpay, tomorrow it will be someone else. Cyber law must find some faster and stronger options to keep up with technology.

So, is there any silver lining' The science of quantum cryptography, which is now in its formative years, might offer the hope of perfect privacy for eternity. Keep your fingers crossed.

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