Restoring public trust is mission improbable

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Restoring public trust is mission improbable

Watching the chaos and phobia at the three major credit card companies over the past couple of days in the aftermath of the personal-data leaks reminded me of a scene from the first “Mission Impossible” movie, the one where Tom Cruise flips like a ballet dancer in midair to steal a list of names of undercover agents at CIA headquarters.

A single encrypted computer located in a highly secure room at one of the world’s most impenetrable fortresses with armed-to-the-hilt security forces can only be entered through a small and narrow air vent while hanging on a thin rope. For good measure, the room is equipped with alarms that go off immediately when even a single drop of sweat hits the floor.

Only the most foolhardy would dare to even begin to think about attempting to get to that computer.

The level of security I expect when reluctantly jotting down my personal information, no matter how insignificant, while subscribing to a website, opening a bank account or applying for credit card is not nearly so dramatic as the kind portrayed in films.

In fact, I don’t even expect a fully armed 24-7 Robo Cop guard at the vault where my personal information is stored.

All I want is for the security system to be more advanced and secure than a padlock.

But that was basically what these companies did.

The security for such vital information is so loose even a kid with a lollipop could simply stroll in on his tricycle and steal a long list of names, addresses and much, much more.

All the 39 year-old employee of a rating agency did was download the personal data of the credit card companies on his USB and walk out the front door.

It was that simple.

This wasn’t the first time personal information of customers has been stolen and sold off.

There have been countless similar cases since the nation was connected in early 2000. I can’t remember them all.

But each time, the way the issue is handled is the same. The authorities come up strong, telling the distraught public that such a situation will not happen again and that related laws will be changed. The heads of the companies responsible make a public apology by bowing their heads in front of a camera.

Then people forget about the situation and start living their lives again, until another crisis happens and everyone is back in panic mode like a stampede.

It’s like I’m stuck in “Groundhog Day,” where every morning is the beginning of more of the same.

It came to a point where some of the people around me have become so estranged from the situation that they tune it out.

On Tuesday while getting on an elevator, I ran into a coworker. When I asked if he had checked whether his information was leaked, he gave me a mild smirk and asked, “What for?”

“My personal information probably has been out in the open for so long and so often, I don’t think this latest breach is going to make any difference,” my co-worker said.

There were a few others like him, unlike the throngs who have been panicking since Saturday, when it became clear that more than one’s name, address and phone number had been exposed.

Still, what really concerns me is that, unlike in the past where the worst thing that could happen was having one’s resident registration number leaked, this time my credit card number and other vital information that could allow anyone to secretly access my savings account, where I put what little earnings I make, or, much worse, replicate my credit card and drop a huge bill on my lap.

Already there is a rumor spreading that someone would call a person and say his money was accidently transferred to your account and that you need to send it back to him. But in fact that “accidently transferred money” is a loan that has been taken out in your name. This may be a false alarm, but it sounds really convincing. It strikes me that this could actually happen.

Some people blamed it on the development of technology.

“Do we need this much speed and convenience?” asked a banker that I had dinner with several nights ago.

“In some parts of the U.S., there are still people just waiting in line at a counter to make a deposit or withdrawal, and that lifestyle doesn’t seem all too uncomfortable.”

He said Koreans are just too needy and just have to have everything done in seconds.

“People [here] just can’t wait even for a second,” the banker said. “They throw a fit if a service is late.”

The banker said one of the reasons companies are so reluctant to step up their security to match to the speed of advanced technologies adopted is because of the cost.

“It’s just too much of a burden to keep up with such high profile securities,” the banker said.

Blame it on the technology or not, the financial authority and the responsible companies should really step up their efforts rather than trying to settle everything by bowing their heads in public.

Spend as much as you need to. Credibility and trust is the most essential factor today for any society, whether it be an IT company, a financial company or even a government authority.

Once you lose that public trust, no matter how many times you bow your head, customers will turn their backs or, in a much worse scenario, an angry mob will turn up at your front door with pitchforks and torches.

by Lee Ho-jeong []
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