Thoughts from an active pensioner who is now somewhat past his Biblical "Use-by date"

"Why just be difficult, when with a little more effort you can be bloody impossible?"

Monday, 9 January 2017


Hacking seems to be everywhere these days! The Russians were accused by the Democrats of hacking into their  computers; the Germans are claiming that the Russians have targeted international peace monitors in Ukraine; the Chinese appear to be hacking everyone; the list is for ever increasing.

But what's new? Surely this has been going on for years? What else are organisations like GCHQ and the CIA expected to do. What do we expect the Russians and Chinese to do? From time immemorial, countries have spied on both their friends and enemies. All countries expected that other countries would spy on their activities. Until the internet came along, you tried to recruit people inside government departments, which of course led to the Official Secrets Act with its severe penalties.

But all that is now 'old hat'!
Everyone seems to keep a record of everything they do on a computer which is connected to the internet whether this is needed or not. And once it is connected to the internet, unless you are very, very careful, anyone can hack into it. Why should countries bother to infiltrate spies into, say, the Ministry of Defence or Foreign Office, when the information is on computers and there for the taking, protected only by a simple password?

Not only that, but many with confidential data have it on lap-tops or other portable devices and use it in insecure locations. Just go into any local coffee shop with "free wi-fi" and see how many people are using computers. The banks like to stress the advantages of mobile banking but rarely mention the risks involved.

Why do individuals and governments take these risks? Is it really necessary for all computers to be connected to the internet? Is it really needed for work or is it for vanity? I use a computer dedicated to video editing, it's not connected to the internet, I download any software updates onto a memory stick using another computer. I don't need to worry about its security, Windows updates or even anti-virus software. This way the computer is faster and doesn't have problems of possible interruptions when rendering video or burning DVDs

Meanwhile, those in or close to government who need to use the internet should be asking whether their defences are adequate to defend against the ever more sophisticated hackers. Clearly in the case of the Democrats in America they were not; the password used by one well known Democrat was stated to be, surprise, surprise, "Password". It doesn't need Russians to hack that, I'm sure many a computer aware teenager would be able to do it if he had the mind to do so. After all, it is a British teenager who has been accused of breaking into the Pentagon's computers!

So next time we read about the Russians, or anyone else, hacking into a government computer, this is what we should expect. We should not be blaming the Russians but blaming those responsible for having a computer system that was insufficiently secure. We should also expect GCHQ or some other state organisation to be doing exactly the same; spying isn't a one way process.

Meanwhile, I would urge anyone who does internet banking to do it at home and, as a minimum, to encrypt any data stored on their computer using a suitable program and a strong password.

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