RISKS - A matter of attitude.

The newsletter of the forum called "RISKS To The Public In Computer Systems" was first published in 1986, a year after I began making a living off of computers. Since '95 (the year I started using the Internet), I have been a loyal reader of the newsletter. People from all over the world are sending news, anecdotes and thoughts regarding the risks to the public caused by the use of computers and computerized devices.

Almost all aspects of life where computers are used are mentioned in the forum:
Danger to life - hospitals, military, trains, airplanes and control towers.
General discomfort - computerized polling, car washing machines, vending machines, traffic signs, and telephone exchanges.
Exposing of personal information - online shopping, banking systems.
Security problems - encryption, design and implementation faults.
And more.

By scanning all the issues of RISKS, the reader can create a catalogue of all the negative aspects of human behavior: stupidity, greed, negligence and everything else imaginable.

After reading the RISKS newsletter for so long, I no longer really learn anything new. The details change but the principle is the same - systems that depend on computers will not always work properly. Faults will always occur. People will die, be late, their private information will be exposed, they will not get the service they were promised, or they will be flooded with junk Email. Nothing surprises me.

So how does all this affect me, apart from the constant re-affirming of my pessimistic/realistic (or not entirely optimistic) view of the world of computers?

My inability to be surprised by computer/human faults affects my attitude towards privacy on the Internet. From my first moment on the Internet, I knew that the net remembers everything and nothing can be hidden in it. The most private information is stored on computers that were designed, assembled, programmed and operated by imperfect humans, so the risk that electronic information will be lost or exposed always exists. There are always people who will want to do harm by breaking into desktops or servers or by writing viruses. I don't expect my information to be private, I don't expect continuous service, and I don't expect the information to always be there.

My practical conclusions from this understanding are:
o Never write in public something that I will be ashamed of in the future. Take full responsibility for my actions on the Internet.
o Never try to hide. Someone who really wants to find the source, will.
o Only give my personal information to reputable services, and even then expect the worst.
o I'd rather use passwords that are easy for me to remember than passwords that will make it difficult for me (or someone else) to enter the service. Why bother?
o I use Yahoo! Mail. That's how I attain greater protection from viruses and spam.
o According to Israeli law, credit card companies must return my money if I prove that a purchase was done against my will.
o I instruct my children never to give their real personal information to anyone on the Internet. They are not mature enough to take complex decisions like when to give the information and when not to. "Never" is a good and simple instruction. If they have to supply a real Email address, they give mine.

In conclusion, I lead a relaxed life on the Internet. I assume things will break, malfunction or will simply not work. For me, the Internet is not my whole life. I lead other "lives", physical, non-digital. These non-digital parts of life are also "breaking" all the time. (Remember that I am from Israel). That's why, perhaps, relaxed life on the Internet is an extension of my Non-Internet life. Or maybe that's just my attitude.

First published in Concept.
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People are more important than computers.