CAN YOU trust your money to the internet? This question must have occurred to many of us this week as we digested the fact that Barclays, Britain's leading web-bank with 1.25 million online customers, had suffered a breach in security. A number of Barclays customers were able to log on to other people's accounts and see their details, including name and balance.
Barclays blamed the breach on faulty installation of a new generation of software and insisted no money had been at risk. But this is just the latest in a long line of security scares involving online services. Last month PowerGen agreed to pay pounds 50 compensation to 7,000 customers, whose credit card details and addresses could have been available to fraudsters through its website.
Last November Halifax had to suspend its share dealing service just two months after launch, when customers found they could see other people's account details. The service was suspended on a Friday and reinstated on the following Monday. Halifax insists customers would not have lost out by not being able to deal on the day they wanted, as they could have used the phone dealing service instead.
What should you do to guard against being caught out by one of these online glitches? One answer would seem to be to avoid these new net-based services altogether and stick to more traditional methods of communication, at least until the various providers have ironed out the bugs in their systems.
On the other hand, are we in danger of getting this whole internet security scare out of proportion? After all, people are quite happy to hand over their credit cards in restaurants. And how many of us have given our credit card details over the phone to a complete stranger in order to book a cinema seat, for instance? At least online transaction details are usually encrypted but, you might counter, one restaurant bill isn't as important a matter as your whole bank account. …