The Essence of Cyber Ineptitude


Naive technology users are also responsible for the insecurities of the digital world

Edward Lucas highlights to his readers in Cyberphobia: Identity, Trust, Security and the Internet that it was Plato, the Greek philosopher, who envisaged a world where “it would be possible to do wrong invisibly.” That world has now been created by the internet, yet its perils and pitfalls were underrated for a long time. Even from its very beginnings, few gave any great consideration to security and safety.

Today, upon the realisations of the internet’s vulnerabilities, billions of dollars are spent on cybersecurity. Yet trying to fix the problems after-the-fact remains an immensely difficult task. As recognised by Lucas, a fast-paced technology industry often leaves behind important questions regarding security and reliability in favour of flashy products to woo consumers and generate profits. As such, “[t]he computers and programs on which we depend on are not subject to the same constraints as other machinery” like cars for example.

But also it is the users themselves who play a part in the problem. User ineptitude when it comes to computers and technology often exacerbates some of the loopholes. Lucas demonstrates this through the fictional characters, called Mr. and Mrs. Hackhett, depicting that of a couple of modern-day technology users. In the passage, Lucas describes how their friends desperately send money in response to an email pleading for help, entirely unaware of the anonymous miscreants orchestrating the fabrication behind the scenes.

Lucas explains how such schemes are easy to carry out as hackers can access markets selling usernames and passwords and “crack them using off-the-shelf software.” Where only a few of these scams may be successful, a surprisingly large stream of revenue can be achieved “if you have access to hundreds of accounts and are sending thousands of messages a day.”

Competent computer users would be able to spot the fishy activity taking place and identify the falsity of these online scams. But such awareness is rare amongst many users. A certain naivety and ignorance means many people are even more susceptible to hackers and other malicious actors online then they ought to be, despite the very simple steps which can be taken to avoid such exposure. Updating software, for example, could provide a better defence against hackers who “design their toxic material with unpatched software in mind.” But too often such updates are ignored and thus the threats persist.

Downloading anti-virus software can also solve many problems, although not all of them; malware can conceal its activities and avoid detection. Firewalls can also alert users to any unverified outgoing and incoming traffic or communications taking place but are weak when trying to find malicious software designed to bypass it discreetly.

These precautions and systems are not perfect, but they are better than the lack of protection so many users have. Lucas compares outdated software to “having bald tyres, a cracked windscreen, no mirrors and bad brakes” on a car. It is perhaps then the responsibility of both consumers and companies to encourage a more safety-conscious culture when it comes to technology. New laws can help to enforce this, but changing societal norms will be key. Lucas points out that “[i]n other walks of life, we do accept intense scrutiny as the price of safety.” It is about time that the same practice is carried out in cyberspace.