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Guest blog: cyber crime - when technology isn't the answer


By Richard Steel, UK Director, Azeus

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Taking a few simple measures to combat cyber crime can help to boost digital inclusion, argues Richard Steel in this edited version of his article, re-published with permission from the Azeus blog.

There's nothing like listening to someone proclaiming that the challenges of digital engagement are easily solved to cheer you up. And so it was at a recent Local Digital campaign suppliers' workshop, that I was aroused from my reverie.

During a difficult discussion about technological solutions to the problem of digital inclusion for the hard-to-reach sections of the community, such as older people, one of the presenters, involved in running a digital engagement - failed even to mention technology. Heinous!

Citizen portals and self-help tools certainly have an important role to play in digital engagement. I think that technology is a good thing, but it's the easy bit. Cultural issues - including 'not invented here', local priorities, the idea that greater efficiency equals fewer jobs, and who gets the savings - have to be addressed.

I'd argue that where Government intervention will now be most effective is in dealing with the nuisance of e-crime such as spam and identity theft.

I get around 200 spam messages to my personal email account every week; have different email addresses for different purposes; lie or provide misleading information when registering for services to avoid unwanted subscriptions; and never reply to messages from people or organisations I don't know.

Phishing messages are increasingly sophisticated and, increasingly, legitimate software that you install defaults the acceptance of additional browsers and tools to clog-up your computer. Often, people are scared to click on links or accept prompts to install new software, so fail to upgrade anti-virus programs.

Today, fixed and mobile telephony is part of the digital infrastructure, extending the scope for unscrupulous sales people, and the opportunities for fraud.

I've always worked in the IT industry and if I struggle to manage my digital presence, I can understand why people who are less used to technology are reluctant to go online.

Government could really help digital inclusion by mounting a robust campaign to cut cyber crime and harassment. I'd argue that money invested in tackling this blight on society - dealing with the 'fear factor' and the management difficulty - will be far more effective in facilitating digital uptake than investment in applications and portals. If there are good business cases for the latter, they'll happen anyway.

That may seem unduly pessimistic, and I'm aware there's a lot of great work going on but, most of the digital inclusion initiatives I see have changed little over the last 10 years

The same goes for the development of IPv4 - the method by which data is sent from one computer to another on the internet. There are good reasons, explained here, why the promise of Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) has yet to be delivered, and it's still uncertain when implementation will be complete, but timely Government intervention would have helped.

IPv6, developed by the Internet Engineering Task Force to deal with the problem of exhausted IPv4 addresses, has been built with security in mind. Many of the optional security features added onto IPv4 are integrated into IPv6 as default requirements.

IPv6 encrypts traffic and checks data packet integrity to provide VPN-like protection for standard internet traffic and crucially, enables traceability. So, we need telephone and email preference services with the teeth that IPv6 can give them.

I checked out a few public sector websites, and they mostly don't have links for reporting e-crime on their front pages - surely something that's easy to implement, and would cost very little? The same goes for voluntary organisations. Surprisingly, some sites fail to include any information on online safety and combating cyber crime.

Let's beef up the Police Central e-crime Unit and promote its work.

Above all, let's start focussing more of our Local Digital campaign initiatives on dealing with e-crime; not necessarily technological solutions, but promoting best practice, supporting and promoting existing initiatives and ensuring that these threads run through everything we do.

Richard Steel is Director of Azeus UK, an IT company that has successfully delivered more than 300 systems to over 60 government organisations. With offices in the UK, Hong Kong and the Philippines, Azeus continues to develop its international presence. Steel was previously Head of IT at the London Borough of Newham Council and is a past President of the Society of IT Management (Socitm).


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