Fate of e-commerce is anything but secure

Information security, or lack thereof, may yet be the death of commerce and business conducted online by Canadian consumers.

That’s an assertion based on a survey conducted a few months ago, which, among other things, suggests there still remains much apprehension on the part of Canadians who shop online, and that businesses themselves continue to grapple with information security.

A survey of 1,250 Canadians by Pollara on behalf of security product vendor Symantec Corp. observed that 45 per cent of B.C. residents and 41 per cent of those surveyed in Ontario don’t feel safe from threats such as hackers and identity theft while shopping online. In fact, four in 10 Canadians feel “unsafe” when shopping online, and nearly one in four when banking online. The survey was conducted in early May and researchers say the results are accurate to a total of plus or minus 3.2 per cent.

Given that Canadians are among the more Internet-connected and IT-savvy folks in the world, these observations lead one to wonder whether there might be a real danger of people turning their backs on cyberspace business and commerce. The reality is that cyberspace may still be too dangerous place to safely conduct business.

The Internet has been around for a while now, and effective technologies to keep information secure and make surfing in general — and e-commerce in particular — much safer should be widely deployed by this point.

Unfortunately, there simply hasn’t been a marked turnaround in the safety of doing business online.

The Pollara survey observes that 58 per cent of online Canadians have been a victim of a computer virus or worm. Yet IT security remains a marginal investment for most businesses. A poll of ITWorldCanada’s IT executive readers conducted earlier this year shows more than 40 per cent of small and medium businesses (companies with less than 500 employees) surveyed in Canada say they’ll spend about as much on information security this year as they did last year. An additional 35 per cent of small business said they may spend up to 10 per cent more this year.

That’s paltry spending, considering that most businesses are likely doing more online today than ever before, and that the sophistication and volume of cyber threats is on the rise.

To further illustrate the extent of the problem, consider that only about half of small businesses say they use intrusion detection and prevention tools, while just 55 per cent say they use some type of secure remote access on the Internet.

Why does such a cavalier attitude seem to prevail when two-thirds of small business respondents to the survey say their companies have experienced between one and four “negative security related events” in the past 12 months? Among other things, survey respondents say these events have resulted in confidential records being compromised and/or loss or damage to internal records.

There’s an important question raised. Given that nearly half of Canadian online users remain apprehensive about shopping online, why should a business seek to invest in e-commerce today?

The online security risks seem to be increasing, given the existence of more insidious computer viruses, malicious software such as spyware, and incidents of next-generation threats such as phishing and pharming.

There is a real danger that customers may turn away from online commerce if cyberspace can’t be made much more secure, and soon.

It’s a scenario that may breathe new life into traditional storefront shopping, but spell death to e-commerce if Canadian companies don’t wake up to the threat and start to clean up the Net.

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McLean is editor-in-chief of IT World Canada and can be reached at dmclean@itworldcanada.com.

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