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Since 1st March, 1999
 
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Hacking everywhere

It was interesting to read the the article 'Cyber Extortionists' in this column recently. The author highlighted a very important aspect of the otherwise glittery world of online commerce. True, the cyberworld is still far from safe and secure when it comes to online transactions.

But, so are physical financial transactions, aren't they' Centuries after the system of currency came into existence, we still read stories about financial crimes everyday. Don't bank robberies take place' Have we got rid of cheque forgeries' Why single out the Internet alone'

Our problem is that we assume that the Internet is something different from the world we all live in. This misconception has led to the wrong business models adopted during the e-commerce boom.

Thousands of companies went bust just because they thought that the business rules that applied to the industries in the real world wouldn't apply there. What we all forgot was that though cyberspace was a different terrain, it was ruled by the individuals who ran the real world.

Just as cities and towns are connected by roads and highways, communities of computers are connected through local and wide-area networks. Instead of transporting goods, these networks transport data. If the highways in our real life aren't safe, how can we expect the information superhighway to be flawless'

A lot is being said about quantum cryptography, a process that will exploit the counter-intuitive concepts of quantum mechanics and make data transfer, according to its supporters, fool-proof. It's claimed that quantum cryptography will make online financial transactions absolutely safe. In fact, as reports from several laboratories indicate, some experts have already started the practice. A few months ago, Prof. Anton Zeilinger and his colleagues, from the University of Vienna, transferred money to a bank through a channel that maintained its secrecy exploiting the precepts of quantum mechanics.

Reports of such feats are always highlighted in the media, but it is difficult to understand how quantum cryptography will make the world of online transactions immune to hacking, for it's the same lock-and-key problem that we are facing in data transfer. No matter how good a lock you invent, a thief will always come up with a key to that. Cryptographers had promised online security with impossible-to-crack systems. But the reality is that hackers took some time, but eventually cracked those systems. Something similar will happen with quantum cryptography as well, although recent hypes give an entirely different impression.

We have to accept the truth that we won't get rid of hacking ever. It's pointless to single out the cyberworld for being vulnerable to snooping.

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