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Computer Users Beware

Computers are an essential tool for many of us both at work and at home. Those with the right smart technology can remotely turn on their heating, lights and ovens at home from miles away. The ubiquitous presence of pornographic sites is a downside but can be avoided by choice. 

It is not the most serious problem though, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer told us this week. In a keynote speech he warned that the country could be plunged into darkness by enemy hackers. He predicted that the next war would begin not with guns and missiles but with wholesale cyber-attacks on our computerised equipment. No, this is not science fiction. Mr Hammond’s statement was backed by the head of MI5. There is also historical evidence. In 2009 a virus was fed into US and South Korean government websites that temporarily disabled them. North Korea was suspected then but now it is the Russians who are in the Chancellor’s sights, though he did not name them. He announced a £1.9 billion programme to strengthen our cyber defences and warned any aggressor that we would strike back when we are attacked.  Apparently GCHQ is already equipped to do that. He said,” if we do not have the ability to respond in cyberspace to an attack which takes down our power networks leaving us in darkness, or hits our air traffic control system, grounding our planes, we would be left with the impossible choice of turning the other cheek and ignoring the devastating consequences, or resorting to a military response.”

That prompts the question, what would Jesus do? He said “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). St Paul echoed that, “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath” (Romans 12:19). Were they referring to enemy states or just hostile individuals? Pacifists would say there is no difference but proponents of the just war thesis would disagree.

Cyber-attacks are not just an international issue; they are also used by criminals. Cybercrime is a fast growing type of crime because it is speedy, convenient and lucrative. Criminals have at least six ways of breaching normal cyber security and most victims have inadequate protection. Last year there were six million cyber offences which means one in ten of us were victims of fraud or other online offences, including 157,000 customers of TalkTalk. They had their bank account details stolen and 28,000 of them had their credit and debit card accounts rendered useless. A study by Juniper Research has estimated that the costs of cybercrime could be as high as £2.1trillion by 2019. Nor is stealing our money the only motive for cybercrime.  Most modern cars have computerised systems that can be hacked to cause accidents with potentially fatal consequences.

All computer users should ensure that they have installed adequate protection against malware and viruses on their PCs and other computer equipment. Banks, Internet Service Providers and other businesses have a special duty to protect their customer’s details. The Government has the special responsibility of national defence and from that perspective Philip Hammond’s allocation of funds for this is welcome. The Internet is not properly policed and debates on the Investigatory Powers Bill have exposed differences of opinion about how far any Government should be able to monitor what we do on our computers.

Until Christ returns there will be sinners threatening our safety and wellbeing and prayerful dependence on him is our best defence but responsible use of our computers is also wise.


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