Sleepwalking through cyberspace
Written by Katie Stanton, associate partner
Edited by Iain Gibson, associate partner
As far as the digital world goes, my knowledge is rudimentary for my age bracket. I am a particularly gifted streamer; an occasional paywall manipulator; a serial social media voyeur; and I live and breathe contactless. Pretty standard – if not yet clinically mandated – stuff.
So, when the news broke of a big, bad Twitter hack last week, I was captivated. The accounts of Barack Obama, Elon Musk, Kanye West and Bill Gates, among many other celebrities and corporations, were targeted to tweet a Bitcoin scam to millions of followers.
The tweets read variously as follows:
“I am giving back to the community due to Covid-19! All Bitcoin sent to the address below will be sent back doubled. If you send $1,000, I will send back $2,000! Only doing this for the next 30 minutes! Enjoy.”
Evidently, the scam itself was basic: the hackers made away with just $116,000 worth of cryptocurrency. For all we know, this was a group of kids chortling in a basement somewhere, just out to prove a point and make everyone else look stupid.
But it exposes something much more unsettling: our own vast digital vulnerability and a real capacity for malice that many of us have been quietly ignoring.
While I sleepwalk through cyberspace, gawking gormlessly at people I’ve not seen or heard from in the best part of a decade, or browsing knock-off teeth whitening kits on Amazon, hackers with motives less pure are up to no good.
With just a couple of nifty clicks, they can waltz into some of the most powerful social media accounts in the world and do, well, whatever the heck they want.
If last Wednesday’s hackers had chosen to manipulate the stock markets or distribute information about a hoax emergency, the damage could have been much worse. It is a scary, if unsuccessful, reminder that future invasions will likely not happen on the beaches, but at the digital frontier.
This does not mean we should cower away in fear; advances in technology make our lives, on the whole, much easier, and will continue to be crucial as we adapt to a world marred by Covid-19.
Rather, this news should be the awakening we need to finally take it seriously, to invest in our digital security and to better scrutinise those companies to whom we so happily serve our data on a ‘space grey’ platter.
Foreign secretary Dominic Raab will update the House of Commons today on the UK’s extradition arrangements with Hong Kong – a week after the UK banned Chinese telecoms company Huawei as a long-term supplier for its 5G networks. He is expected to suspend the extradition treaty amid rising tensions between London and Beijing. (£)
The UK government has admitted its contact tracing programme is unlawful in a legal letter which confirms it has been running in breach of data protection laws (GDPR) since it was launched in May.
Talks between EU leaders have rumbled on into an unscheduled third day as they deliberate a huge coronavirus economic recovery plan. Some member states believe the proposed €750bn package is too large and should come as loans, rather than grants.
Business and economy
The Chinese social media app TikTok is “as much of a threat” to Britain as Huawei, senior Conservative MPs have warned. Former Tory leader, Iain Duncan Smith, said he thought that the service should be banned because of its proximity to “Chinese intelligence services”. (£)
A court case to decide whether many businesses receive insurance payouts for damage caused to them by the pandemic begins today. It comes after hundreds of firms said they were wrongly denied cover and could ultimately fail as a result.
Nearly half of Britain’s biggest companies think it will take until the second half of 2021 before business recovers from the coronavirus pandemic, according to a survey by the accountancy firm Deloitte.
Columns of note
Keeping on theme, Patrick Jenkins examines a huge digital shift in the Financial Times, as big banks embrace cloud computing. After years of dragging their feet, HSBC, Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank have signed lucrative partnership deals amid pressure to cut costs and shifting consumer behaviour, with the pandemic accelerating the trend toward digital banking. But, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Using external infrastructure can expose customers to privacy threats and exacerbate geopolitical tensions. (£)
Writing in The Atlantic, Kaleb Watney argues that America’s innovation engine is slowing. In threatening student visas, the Trump administration has added to the uncertainty surrounding the higher-education sector, ultimately signalling to young people overseas that, should they ever want to attend an American university, they might not be welcome. The long-term consequences of reduced brainpower and diminishing diversity could be disastrous. (£)
Source: The Times
The week ahead
Mike Pompeo begins the week with a two-day visit to the UK, where the US secretary of state will discuss coronavirus, China and Hong Kong and the US-UK free trade agreement with prime minister Boris Johnston and Dominic Raab.
On Tuesday the Office for National Statistics will release public finance figures for June. The UK government’s debt exceeded the size of the UK economy in May for the first time in more than 50 years, as borrowing ramped up to mitigate the implications of coronavirus.
Flash PMIs across Europe on Friday will show how services and manufacturing activity in the eurozone, Germany, UK and France held up during July. Most economists expect to see expansion, although the pace of progress is likely to be slow. The UK also has retail sales numbers out on Friday, which are predicted to increase again after bouncing back in May.
What's happening today?
Int. Economic Announcements
(07:00) Producer Price Index (GER)
(09:00) Current Account (EU)
Did you know?
Four times more people speak English as a foreign language than as a native one.
House of Commons
Housing, Communities and Local Government (including Topical Questions)
Trade Bill: Remaining Stages
Protection of endangered species and restoration of habitats in developing countries - Chris Grayling
House of Lords
Ensuring independent pharmacies are able to support the commuities in which they are based – Lord Grade of Yarmouth
Meeting the Aichi Biodiversity Targets – Lord Oates
Government objective of making England smoke-free by 2030 - Lord Faulkner of Worcester
Ensuring young people leaving school in this academic year are prepared for work in a post-COVID-19 environment - Lord Aberdare
Impact of the Overseas Operations Bill on the rights of British troops serving overseas to make civil liability claims against the Ministry of Defence and its implications for the Armed Forces Covenant - Baroness Goldie
Business and Planning Bill – Report stage and third reading - Earl Howe
In recess until 10 August (with the exception of 23, 30 July and 6 August 2020, on which dates business may be programmed by the bureau)