Pandora’s Box – The Convenience of Technology and the Price to Pay

We live in a culture of convenience. From drive-thru shopping to on-demand movies, we want everything at the quickest possible pace and with the least amount of effort. To those who are cynical, this simply means we are too lazy. To those with a “glass-half-full” view of the world, this quest for speed and low effort is what actually pushes businesses and technology to be more efficient.

Regardless of how you interpret this evolutionary process, balancing convenience with everything else is always a compromise – and compromises come with a price.

In light of recent high-profile security breaches, I’ve discussed how desensitized we have become to these incidents, and how the price we pay is more than just money. I emphasized the point to make it personal and take action accordingly. Today, I want to expand on the action you can take.

Let’s take the example of online banking, another wonderful modern convenience: we ask our banks to give us immediate access to our account balances, convenient instant money transfers, and even the ability to open a new credit card account without ever stepping into a physical branch.

Banks are entities to which we entrust our money. It is their responsibility to keep it safe, which used to translate to unbreakable vaults and high-alert guards. Today, it means keeping cyber criminals away from your online account – and your money. To that end, banks tighten up their security measures: logging in from a different computer? Let’s step up the authentication with an SMS challenge. Making a payment to a new recipient? Let’s authorize this transaction through another channel.

In some countries where convenience is not taken for granted, the story is different. In Brazil, for example, to log into your account with a top retail bank you have to (1) enter the number of your branch, (2) enter your username, (3) enter your password, and finally (4) you have to type a PIN on a software keypad that appears on different parts of the screen, with numbers randomly shuffled. Also, do you want to open a new credit card account online? Sorry, can’t-do. You must drive to the closest branch and do it in person.

Most people react negatively to these increased security measures because they impact their convenience. Retail banking is a competitive market, and financial institutions respond by making these online activities easier for you. They understand that, if convenience fails, they will likely lose you as a customer.

That’s where our share of the responsibility comes into play: there are many ways that we can drive businesses to deliver more value to consumers, but pushing them to cut corners in security is not the right way. Instead of “chewing up” your bank on social media when an online credit card transaction is declined as potential fraud, thank them for spending millions on a fraud prevention team and tools that stop criminals from succeeding.

Technology will always catch up. New and promising ways to better detect online fraud, verify identity and replace static passwords appear in the market every day. In the meantime, as an individual, the most valuable role you can play in war against cyber crime is to support the efforts to stop online criminals – the price you will pay in convenience is far less than the price we pay as a society.


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