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Misha Glenny: Cybermen will hold us to ransom unless we act now

Over the next couple of weeks, senior management at Ulster Bank and its parent company Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) will be biting their nails as they wait to see how many of their account holders pull their custom. A simple flaw in a routine upgrade seems to have knocked the bank's entire system off-kilter.

Already, there have been reports that doctors in Mexico threatened to turn off a dying girl's life-support machine because the bank did not transfer money owed to the hospital looking after her.

And at least one couple claims that their purchase of a house collapsed because payment did not go through

For more than a decade, the banks have been encouraging us to carry out our business online because it saves them huge costs. But the fiasco demonstrates just how fragile dependency on the web and computer networks makes us.

The genius of the internet is the fact that it connects everything. But this is also its Achilles heel. And these networks are easier to break than you might think.

Worryingly, rogue viruses and malicious software aimed at disrupting national infrastructures are set to become a standard tool in the military arsenal.

Although they may yield to public pressure, RBS's executives are not obliged to reveal the cause of this system meltdown. Indeed, industry and banking are resisting such compulsory reporting precisely because an admission of failure leads to a massive dent in a company's reputation.

One way around this is to insist on anonymous reporting of breaches, so that the Government is able to form a much better picture of any problems afflicting our major computer systems in both the private and public sector.

Government is already discussing what to do in the event of an "Advanced Persistent Threat" succeeding -- a computer attack or failure whose consequences inflict huge and widespread damage to our economy or infrastructure.

But at the moment, neither the state nor the public really knows how vulnerable we are to the attacks or malfunctions to which large computer systems are subject on a daily basis.

This matters, because our lives have become so utterly dependent on such systems. Without a proper debate, we will be left floundering when the next incident takes place. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent