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Hack attacks wash out confidence in Net

Attacks on major Web sites last week caused barely a blip on the e-commerce radar, leading some to believe that online shopping habits would emerge unscathed. Wishful thinking

In 1964, one of the strongest earthquakes ever recorded struck Alaska. Although it turned the city of Anchorage into rubble, just 15 of the 125 who perished died during the quake itself. The rest were killed later by tsunamis, giant ocean waves triggered by the tremor.

In a similar fashion, new research suggests that waves of consumer fear triggered by last week's hack attacks will prove more damaging than the attacks themselves.

Consider results of a new PC Data poll of home Net users in the US, conducted over the weekend:

  • Nine out of 10 expressed fear in the wake of the attacks.

  • One out of three said they were affected by last week's attacks.

  • One out of two said they will think twice before sharing credit card data over the Internet in the future.

Ironically, shortly after last week's attacks, online shoppers seemed unfazed. They continued to shop -- some sites even reported an uptick in sales.

However, that may have just masked a looming threat of long-term damage. As security-conscious Net users began worrying that the Web is growing faster than our ability to protect its users, general confidence in the security of the Net became another casualty:

  • 37 percent of those surveyed said the attacks changed their opinion of overall Net security.

  • 54 percent said it would change their behavior.

  • 80 percent of those who said they would change their behavior said they would be less likely to hand over credit card data on the Web in the future.

The opinions appeared to reflect a dichotomy in the way many Americans view the Internet -- both as a place of endless economic and social possibility but also as a viper's nest of potential fraud and licentiousness.

The findings were released as President Clinton, meeting with computer executives at the White House, said that the Web-site hack attacks raised the alarm for tighter security but were not a "Pearl Harbor".

We will have e-commerce Web sites that actually take money, deliver goods, and allow the e-tradesfolk a small profit. But Guy Kewney insists that day isn't today. Go to AnchorDesk UK for the news comment.

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