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Source: Steve Mertl, Canadian Press

January 22, 2000

      Businesses spent an estimated $6.4 billion worldwide on computer security last year, but some experts say that doesn't deter outside hackers and corporate insiders bent on stealing or doing harm.

      The security of data, everything from trade secrets to consumer credit-card numbers, is a growing concern as more business moves on to the Internet.

      High-profile incidents, such as the case last month of a Russian hacker who stole thousands of credit-card numbers from an online CD sales site, draw attention to the problem.

      But much of the information-technology industry, along with the growing number of online consumers, seems in denial about the problem, says Hy London, president of Montreal-based Systems Canada.

      London, whose firm's expertise includes computer-disaster recovery, says he won't buy anything online until his privacy is guaranteed.

      He's even leery of sending personal E-mail over the Internet - shuddering that some cyber Peeping Tom might read a love note to his wife.

      "In a perfect world, I'd want everything encrypted," said London, who chaired a panel on data security yesterday at the Comdex Canada West 2000 computer conference and exhibition.

      Yet mushrooming online purchasing, bolstered by polls, suggest consumers see the risks of E-commerce as acceptable.

      London's pessimism was shared by other experts at the session who said that many businesses and institutions, including those plunging into electronic commerce on the Web, are using encryption systems long ago cracked by hackers.

      Data is encoded using an encryption algorithm that turns information into gibberish. The bigger the encryption algorithm's key, the harder it is to crack.

      The 64-bit key commonly used today is increasingly vulnerable, and London said the newer 124-bit key could be cracked in as little as 40 days.

      An expert in Israel has announced he broke a 512-bit encryption key, said Saul Backal, chairman of Meganet Corp. of Los Angeles.

      "If you had enough computing power and enough time, you can break any transaction," Backal said.

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