Maybe it’s time to slow the headlong rush to adopt new technologies

WhatsApp hack and chip flaw at Intel are two cautionary lessons – if we heed them

‘Worse still, once installed on your device, any sign of the attack disappears.’ Photograph: Getty

‘Worse still, once installed on your device, any sign of the attack disappears.’ Photograph: Getty

 

In most spheres, the standard mantra is that one must first walk before attempting to run. Why then, when it comes to technology, is everyone so keen to sprint into the future when we are so regularly reminded that we are still struggling with those faltering first steps.

This week has pitched two more red flags on our tech world, this time on ubiquitous technological domains.

First, on Tuesday, it emerged that WhatsApp, a social media channel boasting 1.5 billion users, had been targeted by spyware that can insert itself without anyone even clicking a link, a message or even a call. Worse still, once installed on your device, any sign of the attack disappears.

Invisible, and therefore undetectable, the mere thought of it eavesdropping on calls and scraping details of contacts and messages is anathema to many who use WhatsApp precisely because of its end-to-end encryption. This is especially so for users dealing with human rights or living under oppressive regimes.

To compound the deception, the patch WhatsApp put out to fix the flaw advised customers only that it would allow them to “see stickers in full size when you long press a notification”.

Having left users exposed, this sort of blatantly disingenuous “support” is anything but transparent. And if your phone is already infected, it presumably is no use anyway.

Just one day later, Intel admitted that it had found yet another flaw in its chips – the central processor that manages data on most computers and in data centres. The second such flaw to emerge in just over a year, ZombieLoad affects all chips made since 2011 – an aeon in computing terms – and could see data “leaking” to attackers, causing problems especially in those data centres managing cloud storage.

And yet the question remains not whether but how fast we can move to driverless cars, online financial services, the connected home and a world driven by artificial intelligence?

There’s scaremongering and then there’s folly. Surely it is not too much to require chipmakers, social networks, banks and the burgeoning internet of things to demonstrate that they are secure before we race headlong into the future.

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