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Fallback strategies

03 Apr 2024

Hopefully yesterday's column caused people to think a little about the vulnerabilities associated with a heavy reliance on technologies that are out of your direct control.

The modern world is increasingly biased towards a dependency on hi-tech services and products that we take for granted... until they fail. Fortunately, such failures are rare so most of us rarely give them a second thought.

However, as I wrote about a few weeks back, there have been some annoying breakdowns of late that created huge inconvenience for some. McDonalds customers were forced to eat "Real FoodTM" when their automated kiosks malfunctioned and in the UK huge numbers of supermarket customers found themselves stuck at the checkout with rapidly thawing frozen food and an electronic payment process that utterly failed.

With all this in mind, it's worth having some fallback strategies in place, for the inevitable.

Cash in your wallet is always a great idea, especially in an era when nobody in retail has those little manual zip-zap contraptions required to manually process credit card transactions.

Unfortunately, governments around the world are pushing hard for the abolition of cash as a form of payment. Indeed, if you even try to withdraw more than a few hundred of YOUR OWN dollars from a bank these days you'll likely get the third-degree as to exactly why you want to do that and be required to disclose what that money is for.

To protest this situation, the Aussies declared yesterday to be "Draw out some cash day" and I say "bloody good on ya cobbers".

Things are getting so bad in Oz that there are even calls for a ban on cash payments over $500 to be enacted.

Clearly there are huge benefits to any government when cash is effectively abolished and all payments are therefore trackable and controlled. It would represent a huge blow to the underground economy which allows some people to avoid tax obligations but even more useful to "the powers that be", it hands those in power total control over the people they govern -- as was witnessed in Canada during the Covid lockdowns.

No wonder governments are increasingly concerned about crypto-currencies, they may become the "new cash" in a world where control over the people is more important than good governance.

Unfortunately, crypto is yet another tech-reliant commodity and places those using it at huge risk of disaster, should the infrastructure needed to process crypto transactions fails or is destroyed. So, while it probably doesn't hurt to hold a little crypto, it should not be seen as a safe haven for your wealth.

Another huge problem we are facing right now is the fact that our cyber-infrastructure is proving increasingly vulnerable to attack by scammers and even enemy nations.

Every day now, I read of another case where millions of people's sensitive data has been compromised and is now for sale on the dark web. The latest of these involved critical data on over 73 million Americans who have done business with AT&T.

Here in New Zealand, details of 2.5 million Kiwis (that's *HALF* the population) were allegedly stolen in a raid on MediaWorks systems.

As the complexity and scope of our online systems increases at a breakneck pace, I expect to see far more of these hacks and compromised systems. Is it time to perhaps take a pause, have a cup of tea and reconsider the direction we're taking here?

What good is all this automation and cost-savings if it means we all become increasingly vulnerable to loss from hacking?

I totally shudder to think of the ramifications of this path once "digital IDs" become a mandate... and don't worry, that's only a few years away. Australia has already started down this road and New Zealand will be close behind.

What steps are in place to deal with the catastrophic fallout that will ensue when (and I say *when*, not "if") this massive trove of personal data is compromised by some evil little sods or foreign power? All the benefits supposedly bestowed by a digital ID could become an Archiles heel, effectively throwing society into chaos as idenity theft for an entire nation becomes a commodity on the Dark Web.

Given that we've seen Microsoft, the US military and a host of other extremely high security entities fall victim to hacks in recent times, I do not believe that any government can guarantee that your electronic identity can be safe in their hands.

It seems that we're not just walking into a future that is overly-reliant on vulnerable technologies but *running* -- with scissors in our hands -- downhill -- on an uneven surface!

We are but one mis-step away from disaster perhaps.

Make sure you've got as many contingency plans as possible in place as soon as possible.

Carpe Diem folks!

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