This week Chris Barling, chief executive at Actinic Software, highlights the flawed use of technology in e-commerce websites.
At around 7pm on the night of 28 December 1879, the centre of the Tay Bridge collapsed into the Firth of Tay at Dundee. It took a locomotive, six carriages and 75 people to their deaths.
The incident sent shock waves through the Victorian engineering profession and was a major story of the time.
Most people know about the Tay bridge disaster. The bridge looked very impressive and had many admirers, but there were major flaws. It wasn't properly engineered, and was a disaster waiting to happen.
It pains me to say so, but there are some similarities the world of e-commerce. We are just getting over the misleading scare stories that have dogged the industry. Now we are creating a rod for our own backs. This is coming from the flawed use of technology.
All programs are interpreted by a computer, just like the law is interpreted by a judge. If the law book on which your case was to be tried was delivered to your house ahead of the trial, and could be changed at will by you, the justice system could not be trusted.
This isn't widely known, so it doesn't happen very much. Yet. The danger is clearly that if the mainstream press get hold of the story, we will be in for another bout of scare mongering about e-commerce.
This isn't just theory. Here is an example from a hackers' newsgroup posting made in July of this year.
"This next one I got from [name withheld]. He was talking about how shopping cart scripts use hidden input fields to set prices. So a search for: type=hidden name=price reveals sites with this problem."
He explains elsewhere how to change prices, and another posting explains how to hack one of the UK's most popular free scripts.
Another area frequently discussed by hackers is stealing credit card details from websites. There have been a number of well publicised incidents and it has been quite a problem.
Most people believe that all of the necessary security is in place if they are using the SSL 'golden padlock'. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The golden padlock does not provide encryption of credit card details at the website and, without further security measures, the site is begging to be hacked. All decent e-store applications must address this issue.
Half baked engineering is not restricted to insecure pricing. Many e-commerce packages make extravagant claims for the number of products that they can support.
I don't want to quote the guilty products by name, or give a blow by blow account of how sites can have their prices hacked. After all, we don't want to encourage fraud.
We rather hope that the industry will adopt good practice so that the problems can be solved ahead of time.
We would also be happy to offer security advice to anyone who is concerned about how any of this may impact their existing store.
The Tay Bridge looked secure, but it wasn't. Of course, the fiasco awaiting online merchants using flawed engineering is not in the same league as the Tay bridge disaster. Even so, maybe giving some thought to these issues is not such a bad idea.
I suspect that most people would prefer their e-store to be engineered like the Clifton suspension bridge, which has not had to close in almost 150 years of use.
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