As reports of computer security breaches proliferate — the latest being the federal government’s snafu that put millions of veterans at risk for identity theft — the public is losing confidence in the digital infrastructure, even as it remains appreciative of all of the good technology brings.
According to a survey by the Cyber Security Industry Alliance, the shortcomings of technology are having real economic consequences. More than 50 percent of Americans avoid making purchases online because they are afraid their financial information will be stolen and two-thirds avoid banking online because they fear it is unsafe.
“If we cannot create a trusted digital environment, it won’t just impact e-business, it will impact all business because nearly every company’s assumptions about growth involve the continued acceptance and usage of our digital networks,” warns Paul Kurtz, executive director of CSIA.
Edie Weiner is president of Weiner, Edrich, Brown, a futurist consulting group whose clients include leading insurance companies. A popular moderator for New York-area industry panels, Weiner has a knack for getting the industry and its CEOs to move beyond the obvious discussions of cycles, claims and regulatory climate. She did just that at a recent state meeting in Manhattan of members of the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of New York.
One of her topics: the digital highway and its risks.
“We have not yet come to grips with the fact that software glitches and abuses, whether it’s hacking or brownouts or identity theft or sabotage or viruses, we have not yet come to grips with the fact that this is the pollution of the next economy,” she said. “We are still dealing with these as discrete issues that come from doing business in an information age.”
Because we love the many advantages of technology, we have been generally accepting of technology’s failings. Weiner and the CSIA survey, however, suggest that our patience may be wearing thin.
It is, Weiner suggests, as if we were to tell a chemical company today, “Go ahead and build that plant and, if you pollute and people get hurt, we’ll figure that out in five or 10 or 15 years, when the diseases start to manifest themselves.”
Of course that plant would not be built on that basis today. “But we are introducing software on that basis today,” Weiner noets. “And there will be latent liabilities that you have not even begun to see because those glitches and abuses in software are the pollution of the coming economy.”
There’s no better way to grab the attention of insurance CEOs than mentioning pollution.
The CSIA survey suggests that fewer than one in five Americans feel that existing laws are enough to protect them on the Internet. Also, voters appear to want strong federal data security legislation even if it leads to higher prices. The CSIA group is encouraging Congress to pass a law this year that would establish stronger security and notification measures, foster best practices and bolster enforcement. The group should have an ally in the insurance industry, which needs more pollution claims like it needs another hurricane.