Guarding the Web
New Straits times (2 march 2012)

The more the Internet becomes integral to our lives, the more we will need to watch out

THE Internet has changed the world dramatically in many positive ways. For instance, its contribution to Malaysia's economy is fast increasing. It has brought down the price of communication to an infinitesimal amount. Cyberspace buzzes with not just social, but commercial activity; buying and selling over the Internet is borderless, allowing transactions in real time over vast distances and tiny niches to combine into viable markets worldwide. Information is disseminated in a matter of seconds. Indeed, the Internet has revolutionised every aspect of human life. Politicians have won hearts and minds by exploiting its massive penetrability. Social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, have changed the way people interact and interconnect.

In short, life as we know it now almost exists on two parallel dimensions: objective reality and virtual reality. For some, the two are quite interchangeable, especially for those whose work constantly involves using the Internet. Slipping back and forth between the two dimensions throughout the day cultivates a seamless world, no matter how seemingly different they may be. It is not surprising, therefore, that the nasty bits of life are also transposed into cyberspace: cyber crimes have increased everywhere, and, in Malaysia, they went up by 88 per cent last year. The increase is staggering. It is said that the monetary value of these crimes far exceeds that of the underground economy of trafficking in drugs and humans. Unchecked, this negative development can harm the nation's economy. Not only will it undermine the confidence of investors, it can also cause even greater economic leakages than conventional categories of crime.

Cyber criminals, according to those in the know, tend to involve young adults and take the form of fraud, intrusion and harassment. Appallingly, ignorance and greed are the two human weaknesses that lead to vulnerability of the victims. Slack security on the part of payment systems can also make credit card use over the Internet risky. The government has put in place CyberSecurity Malaysia to combat these crimes, both physically and digitally. But even they are saying that cyber crimes cannot but grow, given the exponential growth of the technology, namely broadband penetration and multi-platform access. So as to not limit the economic potential of cyberspace, and for their own good, Internet users should take care and be warned of the potential perils of the Web.