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Digital information eludes security measures

Ueli Maurer says computer security still has a long way to go. SF DRS

Every second, vast amounts of information are circulated around the world over the internet using digital technology.

This content was published on November 27, 2003 - 12:35

But the intangible nature of digital data means it is very difficult to protect, leading experts to call for the tightening of security.

Since the worldwide web was invented by the Geneva-based European Institute for Nuclear Research (Cern ) ten years ago, information has become one of the world’s most sought-after commodities.

Widespread access to information, which can now be sent around the globe almost instantly, has had a dramatic impact on communications and working methods for most businesses.

This transformation means that information can now be replicated and sent limitless times at virtually no cost, bringing dramatic progress to most areas of human activity, including commerce, health, the economy and politics.

Digital transmissions are now used to carry out vital functions, such as online banking transactions or the management of railway lines.

Security risks

But according to Ueli Maurer, professor of computer science at the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, these advances have brought with them new dangers.

Once this information is available on computer networks, it is at risk of being modified, most likely by computer viruses. These viruses can wreak havoc on resources used by individuals, businesses and authorities.

And, Maurer warns, the affect of these modifications will become more dramatic as the importance placed on digital information increases.

It is now more difficult to verify whether online information has been tampered with and whether sources are trustworthy.

Many of the existing security techniques have many limitations. Cryptography, for example, can only be used after problems have occurred, such as identifying the sender of an email.

Invasion of privacy

Maurer believes that securing private information networks – such as those used by banks and health insurance companies – against access by unauthorised people will also become harder in future.

Another issue of who should have access to personal files, with some governments calling for more rights to screen private information in the fight against terrorism.

For Maurer, one of the most serious consequences of this is that “the respect of a person’s privacy is becoming an illusion – and it is impossible to gauge the effects of this transformation.”

swissinfo, Jean-Didier Revoin (translation: Joanne Shields)

In brief

The widespread use of the internet means information can be replicated and sent limitless times at virtually no cost.

This transformation has created problems over how to secure information from viruses.

There are also concerns that confidential information could be accessed by unauthorised people.

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