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Why Technology-based Security Systems Don't Work 21 May 2002 Edition
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The wired age has revolutionised the way we handle information in many ways.

Whereas most of our personal and business information used to be committed to paper and ink then, when necessary, moved from place to place by post or courier -- things are much different now.

Chances are that you've committed a huge percentage of your own data to some form of electronic storage. Whether it's email on your cellphone, your diary on a PDA, or business records on your PC -- it's very likely that you are now dependent on a long string of 0's and 1's to keep track of important things.

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Likewise, you've probably long forsaken the postal service as your preferred method of non-verbal communications. Most Net users send and receive at least ten times as many emails as snail mail letters.

What's more -- connecting your PC to the Net is somewhat akin to placing a box with all your valuable information on the footpath outside your house. If it's not locked up securely then someone is bound to break into it and steal something -- or leave you a nasty surprise.

The risks associated with this growing reliance on electronic storage and communications has prompted a massive growth in the hi-tech security industry and a reliance on technology-based security systems.

Unfortunately I think that the term "hi-tech security" is a bit of an oxymoron -- and here's why...

Take the example of the sophisticated copy-protection system that has been used to secure the latest Celine Dion CD against unauthorised copying or ripping.

I suspect the recording companies have spent a small fortune paying for the development or licensing of this system. No doubt the tech guys dazzled them with plenty of buzzwords and elaborated on every little detail.

Unfortunately for the recording companies and their fat wallets -- this clever, complex and probably very expensive system can be defeated with a $2 marker pen. What's more, news of this simple crack has spread far and wide in the blink of an eye, thanks to the Net.

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    Then there's the really clever and "state of the art" fingerprint authentication system which is supposed to verify the identity of a person. It's being touted as the best thing since sliced bread for use in EFTPOS terminals, building security systems, computer system access, etc.

    Unfortunately, just as with the CD copy-protection scheme, this expensive and sophisticated little piece of 21st century technology can be defeated with some smarts and some readily available materials.

    And -- yes, you guessed it, thanks to the Net this crack has also become common-knowledge across the globe.

    So what are the lessons to be learnt from these events?

    First up -- it's very hard to win in the security game because you usually have a small group of highly-paid professionals (ie: there's a limit to how much time they can spend) working to lock a door -- while, on the other side of that door there is a virtual army of equally smart unpaid amateurs (who can work as long as they want) busy picking the lock.

    Secondly, as soon as someone figures out a way to defeat the latest and greatest security system, that information is generally disseminated around the globe in just minutes or hours, thanks to the Net.

    Things don't look good do they?

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