The Reading Room

Hacking is here to stay

The financial news service Bloomberg has been making headlines, rather than reporting them in the last week, much to its embarrassment, over misuse of its $20,000-a-year terminals by reporters to spy on clients.

Goldman Sachs raised the alarm after a journalist in Hong Kong asked the bank about a partner’s employment status, noting that they had not logged in for some time. It subsequently emerged that the practice was relatively widespread, sparking urgent reviews by other financial institutions, central banks and the US Treasury.

Bloomberg president Daniel Doctoroff apologised, saying that “nothing is more important than our clients’ trust”, as he announced Palmisano as an independent advisor, said they had already put in place an internal client data compliance officer and restricted reporters’ access, and aimed to get the benefit of independent leading experts “so that we set the new standard for privacy and data security.”

Trying to make a positive out of a negative is tried and trusted management speak, but it had the whiff of bolting the electronic stable door after the reputational horse had already bolted.

Of course, the reality is, this kind of thing happens all the time, either by the misuse of authorised users inside your firewall, or hackers outside it, security lapses and data breaches being an unfortunate fact of life every time you introduce pesky humans into the world of electronic information, or worse still, create a network with multiple users – now that’s just asking for trouble.

In medialand, the Telegraph has had its Facebook and Twitter accounts hacked by the Syrian Electronic Army, who also targeted the Financial Times, the Onion, the Guardian, the Associated Press, NPR, and the BBC. Last summer Senior Writer Mat Honan claimed “hackers destroyed my entire digital life in the span of an hour” by hacking his Apple, Twitter, and Gmail passwords, and the year before, Sony experienced a data breach within its PlayStation Network where it is estimated that the information of 77 million users was compromised.

On the plus side, the Telegraph would not have been able to break the MPs’ expenses scandal in 2009 if they hadn’t acquired the hard disk of scanned receipts of MPs and peers that was being hawked around Fleet Street.

Meanwhile, back at Bloomberg there are signs that it is already business as usual, as a huddle of FT writers this week agreed Instant Bloomberg, the pre-email private network, the messaging technology it used to turn its financial data service into the hub of a vast social network was “not going to fade away yet.” Our three FT writers said: “If a single function can be said to justify the $20,000 annual cost of a Bloomberg terminal, it is probably Instant Bloomberg.”

The rest of us will go on using the products and the companies that continue to be breached, perhaps preferring not to dwell on the notion that our details are never really secure and our data can be compromised at any time, the only way we may know about it is after it has happened. Sleep well. AW

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