World E-Commerce Forum Tackles Net Security

The issue of how much government needs to work with industry to beef up Internet security and keep the New Economy flourishing was debated Wednesday by speakers at the opening sessions of this year’s World E-Commerce Forum in London.

However, there was no debate on how trenchant a problem online security is. Risaburo Nezu, director of science, technology and industry for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), pointed to the recent wave of e-viruses and denial-of-service (DoS) attacks on sites such as Yahoo! and as indications that online security is a bigger issue now more than ever.

Concerns about increasing security breaches have been found to contribute to the decline of consumer confidence in e-commerce.

Trust Dissolves Into Concern

According to published reports, Nezu said business-to-consumer e-commerce is lagging behind business-to-business because of decreasing customer trust in online transactions.

“Concern about privacy is on the rise,” Nezu told the industry press. “Three-fourths of users stop [their online purchase] when asked for their credit card number because they are not confident of security on the network or server.”

Dr. Steve Smithson, forum chairman and a professor at the London School of Economics, opened the conference by emphasizing the continuing potential for a doomsday scenario.

“One really major scam and we’ll be set back a number of years,” Smithson said. “I hope I’m wrong but I think we’re still open to a major [online] scam.”

Governments Can Play Role

In order to prevent further erosion of customer confidence in e-commerce, the OECD recommended the development and enforcement of joint initiatives at the international level among businesses, consumer representatives, and governments.

In addition to international security standards, the OECD also recommended joint government action in confronting cyberfraud and cybercrimes. The OECD said it is prepared to play the role of mediator to get discussions between governments and businesses underway.

The difficulty will be trying to convince businesses that it is in their best interests to share company information with governments and other businesses, the OECD said.

Difference in Opinion

Not everyone agrees that government-powered international cyber-policing is the answer. Peter Sommer, senior research fellow at the Computer Security Research Centre at the London School of Economics, expressed concern that the problems of national sovereignty and legal system incompatibility will make it difficult to implement such joint ventures.

Sommer told the industry press that international cybercrime treaties are a more realistic approach. In his view, the true impetus for consumer protection lies with the e-businesses, who will need to focus more on protective and recovery measures, including insurance.

Consumers also need to take it upon themselves to remain educated and on top of the latest protective measures, Sommer said.

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