How cyber attacks dent our faith in computer technology

Dido Harding, chief executive of TalkTalk
Dido Harding, chief executive of TalkTalk

My heart sank when TalkTalk’s boss came on television last weekend to admit that the company had been the victim of a cyber attack and there was a strong possibility that its customers could lose money.

Dido Harding – a Baroness no less as it turns out who sits in the Lords – looked shocked, dishevelled and totally unsure of what had gone on as she addressed her customers.

Sandra Chapman

Sandra Chapman

“There, I told you,” Himself said from the comfort of his chair. “I told you not to do online banking and why didn’t you change your provider last year when you said you would?’’

I mustn’t be the only internet user who doesn’t occasionally analyse if doing banking, keeping accounts such as electricity, and buying stuff online is such a good idea. Was Himself right since he often is? I could point to lots of faults I’ve had with TalkTalk but having recently gone through the absolute nightmare of simply changing from one bank to another I had visions of endless angst at trying to leave the company so I decided to give them another chance. Besides, I like a quiet life.

And then Ms Harding popped up and my night was ruined. Too afraid to go and check if my bank account had been raided – there was speculation that bank details could already be in the hands of European terrorists – I decided instead to take the dog out for his nightly constitutional then make a cup of tea. Only the previous week I had had a computer expert in to check over my system, update it and make sure the extra security I had in place was working. His verdict was that all was working perfectly. So I went to bed certain my money was already on its way to the terrorists who cut heads off and there was little I could do about it.

Next day the Baroness was on telly again. Channel 4 mentioned the two previous attacks (ones I didn’t know about) on TalkTalk and asked if the “company had failed to invest in sufficiently tough online security?” Her reply: “In retrospect – absolutely. I would be the first to admit that.”

Any investment they had made in this respect had proved inadequate. Even worse, she wasn’t sure if the details accessed by the cyber criminals had been encrypted. At least she wasn’t trying to spin her way out of a disaster. I made a mental note to change to another company as soon as possible. I checked with my computer expert again about the possibility of having my information stolen and he reassured me. I left it another 24 hours before firing up the computer to see if my bank account was showing a zero balance. It wasn’t.

Two weeks ago I had had an email come into my inbox purporting to come from my bank. It looked absolutely normal. I clicked on to it and it told me it was doing some updating on its online accounts and they needed my details again. I ran down through it, not filling anything in, until I got to the box where it asked for my passport number. I guessed immediately it was a scam and closed it. I rang my bank, they assured me it wasn’t from them. Have we become too complacent about the internet?

Why do we entrust all our information to companies’ websites when we simply don’t know whether or not they secure their sites through encryption (a method of scrambling information into ciphertext which means it cannot be read without authorisation and a special code). If the boss of TalkTalk didn’t know the answer to this question then you can bet there are lots of bosses like her. So beware of the internet. Handy it may be, secure it most certainly is not.