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Wed, Nov 01, 2000 - Page 18 News List

Cyber pirates face tough future

INTERNET CRIME Taiwan consumers are hesitant to make credit card transactions online, but Internet credit card theft should become much less frequent in the future

By Dan Nystedt  /  STAFF REPORTER

High profile Internet credit card thefts should become less frequent as universal standards are created to thwart hacker attacks, according to Jeff Portelli, vice president of MasterCard Asia-Pacific.

Technology is working just as hard for Net security as it is for cyber pirates, and it's almost ready for m-commerce (mobile-commerce) in Taiwan.

Most consumers in Taiwan agree that buying products over the Internet still requires a leap of faith. According to surveys, 70 percent of Taiwan's six million Internet users do not make purchases over the Net.

Those surveyed listed questions of product quality and delivery time. But the majority of consumers surveyed by 7-Eleven Taiwan feared someone might steal their credit card numbers.

Stories of hackers stealing thousands of credit card numbers at a time over the Net have helped fuel these fears. In one case in the US last year, a group of hackers stole 900,000 card numbers in one swoop, making US$45.7 million in purchases before being cut off.

"If you take a look at the last five years, particularly the last 24 months, I don't think there's been a single attack on an account number as it's flowing down the pipeline," said Portelli.

"That is highly unlikely. What you do tend to see are the few instances where -- the merchants didn't have the right security on their back end, they didn't have the firewalls. So people were able to go in and steal their account numbers."

In the days before computer networks linked merchants to credit card companies, transactions were done with a telephone call and carbon paper. Customers were told to keep their carbons so the account number could not be reused.

At that time, when a customer called MasterCard to report a lost or stolen card, customer service would collect those card numbers and publish a weekly `hotcard list.' This gave pickpockets a week or more to use a stolen card -- more if the store did not have or check the hotcard list.

Now when a person reports a card lost or stolen, "it takes 2 seconds to get that card number out of the system globally," said Portelli.

Although the Internet helps hackers break in to systems, it also helps card companies keep track of accounts.

According to Portelli, MasterCard centers around the world monitor transactions for any irregularities and can pinpoint the exact location of the terminal trying to use a card number listed as lost or stolen.

"The second it's happening, the system knows what's going on and the system will react accordingly," he said. "While the fraudster is sitting there doing a fraud attack, there's a knock on the door and it's the Hong Kong police coming in saying 'guess what, you're under arrest.'"

Protecting people's financial information over a mobile phone system, however, is trickier. According to Portelli, one of the first steps to m-commerce (mobile-commerce) is getting companies to agree on universal practices and standards that would help stymie cyber attacks.

This means ensuring banks, stock trading firms and other financial targets have the computer systems necessary to detect and stop a cyber-attack.

Since stock trading appears to be one of the first m-commerce financial transactions to gain popularity here in Taiwan, securities firms and corresponding banks need the firewalls and secure lines to protect stock trades and bank account information.

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