Gina Davidson: Hacked off with cyber-slackness

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THERE is a company which goes by the name “Hacking Team” which purports to be one of the world’s leading cyber-security firms.

It sees itself as an online version of Batman, helping law enforcement agencies around the world to fight crime with its technical gadgets and shield of “offensive technology”.

All very hi-tech and Mission Impossible sounding isn’t it? The shame of it is that Hacking Team was itself hacked this week and its client database stolen and published online by, er... hackers.

How humiliating for them. Especially when they made the schoolboy error of using passwords such as PasswOrd and Pas$wOrd – the kind of thing a five-year-old with a 
smartphone can warn you against.

So, is it any wonder that if the hacking experts are so easily infiltrated and their secrets exposed to the world (turns out they were doing deals with repressive regimes, which the firm had consistently denied) that Edinburgh City Council’s information technology can be tapped into by those with either a desire to make the authority look stupid or a need to get their hands on people’s e-mail addresses?

A total of 13,134 e-mail addresses were taken by the hackers in an attack on the council’s website providers on June 26 – although it has only just come to light when the authority finally alerted those affected. No personal information is thought to have been stolen but people’s e-mail addresses can of course be used by spammers and phishers – the crooks who attempt to get you to send them money by pretending to be a Nigerian prince or a lottery company or even a penniless relative stranded abroad.

The council itself doesn’t seem to think this is a big deal for those affected – there was no actual apology in the letter sent out, just a suggestion that they might want to change their passwords. But for many who are, perhaps for the first time, having to communicate with such organisations through technology as staff levels contract – which is what’s happening at the council – it is a very big deal indeed.

Why should they feel at risk of being exposed to criminals because they signed up, logged on and asked for a new wheelie bin, or queried a parking ticket or lodged a planning objection? How will they know how to react if they do find their e-mail inbox suddenly full of apparently genuine requests for them to “verify” their bank details for paying a parking ticket or other sensitive information?

Even if they can smell phishy e-mails why should they have to deal with them in the first place?

Of course they shouldn’t but the fact is that no organisation, no person – not even the hackers’ nemeses – are ever really safe when we live in an age when data is the big prize. Data is the knowledge which powers crime across the globe, and if they really want your information they can get it.

I’ve had to change my Facebook account password on a number of occasions after I apparently sent random e-mails to my friends suggesting they buy cheap sunglasses or knock-off designer goods.

Obviously more money needs to be spent on protecting people’s data. Yet if a private company like Sony with all its millions cannot protect itself from hacking, as Napier University’s cyber-security expert Bill Buchanan has pointed out, and if Facebook is also at the mercy of hackers how on earth can lowly local authorities with tiny in-house IT departments deal with it?

Maybe it’s too late to reel the IT revolution back a few notches, but I know I’d still rather have any sensitive information put down on paper and filed away in locked cupboards, rather than being open and accessible to anyone with a Higher computing qualification and a cheap laptop.

Suspicion over abortion law

THE idea of devolving abortion law to Holyrood sends shivers down my spine. The last thing women need is a geographical dividing line in their right to choose what to do with their bodies.

I find it beyond belief that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon thinks Scottish women should be treated differently from those south of the Border. She has said in the past there’s no need to change the 24-week limit – so why should the legislation be devolved?

Labour is against the whole idea, which is why the Smith Commission ran scared from the subject. But now talks are taking place between Westminster and Holyrood.

What does the SNP want to do with this legislation? Well, there are some in the SNP who want to make it harder for women to get terminations, including its last health minister and previous leader. Would that be the act of a “progressive” government? I don’t think so.

Holyrood doesn’t need control over abortion law. Women don’t need David Mundell, Angus Robertson, Alex Salmond, Alex Neill, et al to decide what’s best for them.

Sturgeon needs to speak up and explain just what the point would be of having abortion law in the hands of Holyrood. Women are rightly suspicious.

Rave on – or not as case may be

WHEN does a get-together of family and friends on a beach – with music playing and drink being taken – become an illegal rave? It’s a question with which the police will have to conjure if Bartosz Mitura goes ahead with his plans for a party in Portobello next Wednesday. The outcome is bound to get sand in everyone’s sandwiches.

This will spur us on

YET another chunk of the south-east wedge is being proposed to be built on. A further 680 homes could join the 510 already in the pipeline for the Edmonstone estate, a stone’s throw from the Infirmary, as well as a new primary school for the area. If ever there was a reason for the council to consider a tram spur to this part of the city, this is it.