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Caveat Surfer: Beware When
Using Electronic Communication

This morning a familiar sight greeted me in my E-mail inbox. A friend had forwarded me a "too good to be true" note about how two major high-tech companies were "beta-testing" their E-mail system, and that if I just forwarded on this E-mail I might receive a fat cheque in my real mail box. Having already received this E-mail several times, various updates on its phony status, and sheepish E-apologies from those who forwarded it to me in the first place, it went straight into the trash unread. But a thought stayed with me through my day. Many of the benefits of electronic communication are also the features that demand we exercise tremendous caution with what we find.

What are the aspects of electronic communication, the Internet, E-mail, the World Wide Web, newsgroups and so on, that demand the most caution? Hot Link took a few minutes to speak to Bert Cowan, CFE (Certified Fraud Examiner) from Competitive Insights. Competitive Insights specializes in security issues and new technologies. We talked with Bert about the perils of acquiring and sending information electronically.

HL: Has there been much fraud perpetrated with the use of electronic communication?
BC: The short answer is yes. KPMG has done a survey of the issue, and they estimate the cost to be hundreds of millions a year in North America.
HL: What are some common misconceptions about electronic security?
BC: People feel that it is secure. That is not the case unless you are using a very expensive encryption system, which will really only slow down a determined hacker. Anything that you send electronically, if you would be comfortable seeing it on the front page of the newspaper then fine, send it. At the very least use some encryption program, such as PGP, available free on the Internet.
HL: What precautions should one take with any sensitive information?
At the very least encrypt it, but the bottom line remains, if someone really wants your information and has time to crack your system, they can do it. Keep in mind that by the time they crack it, the information may have lost its value. Speed is of the essence in industry today.
HL: How can one determine the authenticity of information received electronically?
It is very difficult. Never rely on a sole source. You need to be sure that what you are receiving has not gone around in a circle. Never take anything at face value. If you receive information that might affect the way that your organization functions - check it out. The RCMP have a Web page about that produces security bulletins concerning information technology. They are also happy to answer questions:
HL:What is the most important thing to be aware of when using electronic communication tools?
BC: It is not private.

Bert Cowan’s listing is on Page 255 of the Winter 2000 edition of Sources. Reach him and Competitive Insights at

For more on maximizing your use of new technology, take a look at "Ten Tips for Working Faster on the Web" by Rita Vine in HotLink Numbers 12 and 13, or look for it on the Internet: