Friday, 31 December 2010

Questions of Credit

I suppose I've always had a nagging fear of so called chip and PIN banking - or at least questions about how safe it actually is. Computer scientists at Cambridge University have recently shown how easy it is to make withdrawals from an account without knowing the account holder's PIN. There's quite a row going on between the UK Cards Association (representing leading banks) and the University over the publication, on the net, of details (in a PhD thesis)describing how chip and PIN systems can be breached.

Now what would be the most likely response of the banks to this? Could we not be forgiven for expecting it to be something like, 'We are taking immediate steps to overcome these glitches and rectify the problems they cause our customers?' Perhaps accompanied by a campaign to restore confidence in their services by giving some proof of the urgent and serious nature of the work being undertaken to put things on a safer footing? Well, no, it seems that the main plank of their response is to accuse Cambridge University of recklessness in disclosing too much information. This sounds perilously close to an attempt at cover up and really does nothing for my already shakey trust in the banking system! Professor Ross Anderson, a leading researcher from the Univeristy's Computer Lab, summed it up well, for me. 'Cambridge is the university of Erasmus, Newton and Darwin. Censoring writings that offend the powerful is offensive to our deepest values,' he said. 'What will support confidence in the payment system is evidence that the banks are free and honest in admitting weaknesses when they are exposed and diligent in affecting the necessary remedies.'

I have never had much trust in credit transactions and attempt to avoid them whenever possible. However you organise the management of your money, there is risk involved. But the idea that the banks are not giving us an accurate picture of what that risk involves (again) is disturbing. If I am going to take risks with my money, I would prefer to invest in something that, on the way, might produce social and spiritual capital rather than large profits for organisations that dissemble.

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