This morning a familiar sight greeted me in my E-mail inbox. A
friend had forwarded me a "too good to be true" note about
how two major high-tech companies were "beta-testing"
their E-mail system, and that if I just forwarded on this E-mail
I might receive a fat cheque in my real mail box. Having already
received this E-mail several times, various updates on its phony
status, and sheepish E-apologies from those who forwarded it to
me in the first place, it went straight into the trash unread. But
a thought stayed with me through my day. Many of the benefits of
electronic communication are also the features that demand we exercise
tremendous caution with what we find.
What are the aspects of electronic communication, the Internet,
E-mail, the World Wide Web, newsgroups and so on, that demand the
most caution? Hot Link took a few minutes to
speak to Bert Cowan, CFE (Certified Fraud Examiner) from Competitive
Insights. Competitive Insights specializes in security issues
and new technologies. We talked with Bert about the perils of acquiring
and sending information electronically.
HL: Has there been much fraud perpetrated with the use of
BC: The short answer is yes. KPMG has done a survey of the
issue, and they estimate the cost to be hundreds of millions a year
in North America.
HL: What are some common misconceptions about electronic
BC: People feel that it is secure. That is not the case unless
you are using a very expensive encryption system, which will really
only slow down a determined hacker. Anything that you send electronically,
if you would be comfortable seeing it on the front page of the newspaper
then fine, send it. At the very least use some encryption program,
such as PGP, available free on the Internet.
HL: What precautions should one take with any sensitive information?
At the very least encrypt it, but the bottom line remains, if someone
really wants your information and has time to crack your system,
they can do it. Keep in mind that by the time they crack it, the
information may have lost its value. Speed is of the essence in
HL: How can one determine the authenticity of information
It is very difficult. Never rely on a sole source. You need to be
sure that what you are receiving has not gone around in a circle.
Never take anything at face value. If you receive information that
might affect the way that your organization functions - check it
out. The RCMP have a Web page about that produces security bulletins
concerning information technology. They are also happy to answer
HL:What is the most important thing to be aware of when
using electronic communication tools?
BC: It is not private.
Bert Cowans listing is on Page 255 of the Winter 2000 edition
Reach him and Competitive Insights at firstname.lastname@example.org
For more on maximizing your use of new technology, take a look
at "Ten Tips for Working Faster on the Web" by Rita Vine
in HotLink Numbers 12 and 13, or look for it on the