In Part 1 of this two-part Q&A with U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, we chatted about his recent efforts at Birch Cafe to publicize security risks in public wifi hotspots.
During that event, he said the quickest and easiest way to curb identity theft is for major websites to switch to secure HTTPS web addresses, calling the less-secure HTTP protocol “a welcome mat for would-be hackers.”
In this second installment today, we chat more about the push for websites to invest in safer HTTPS technology and what’s next in his mission to protect consumers’ online privacy.
ER: If companies have known for years that using HTTP makes it easy for hackers to steal passwords and credit card info in wifi hotspots, why have they not fixed it already? Is it the expense involved in upgrading their technology, or is it that there is no real incentive, so why bother?
Senator Schumer: Well, I think a lot of this goes back to the first days of the Internet really taking off. There was so much happening so quickly that I don’t think there was a particularly strong emphasis on security. And, thankfully, recently we’ve had strong voices out there for Internet security, but they weren’t always there.
And without people speaking up, security was sometimes the last thing that companies focused on. Let’s fast forward to now, we’re at a place where hundreds of millions of transactions and conversations are happening across the Internet every day and a lot of these really successful companies owe it to their consumers to provide a website that is safe from being hacked.
You know, just like we expect a car manufacturer to build a safe car we need to expect big time websites like Facebook and Twitter to provide the safest environment possible.
ER: You’ve earned a reputation as a “go-to legislator” among your colleagues for your political finesse and legislative skills. That’s one amazing reputation to have – what’s next for you in your mission to crack down on cybercrime?
Senator Schumer: The first thing I would say is that there are a lot of really talented legislators in Congress and I’ve been very fortunate to have learned from some of the best like Daniel Patrick Moynihan and even my contemporary colleagues like Majority Leader Reid, Senator Leahy, and others.
But in terms of what’s next, it’s really hard to say because the nature of the Internet really evolves every day. Just think, not too long ago Twitter turned 5 and when it first started people poked fun at it, but now it’s become part of the fabric of our society — people use it to communicate with friends, get news, and more recently we’ve seen its importance in some of the uprisings in the Middle East.
So I think the key is being vigilant and for me it’s listening to the things that people tell me when I’m at a St. Patrick’s Day parade in Farmingdale or in Buffalo. And you know, getting out and listening to people is the best part of my job and it’s where I learn the most, so it’s what I will keep doing.
ER: In ten or fifteen years, do you think we will look back and wonder how naïve we were when it came to basic security precautions online? If so, what’s one simple step every American can take today to start on a path of safer online behavior?
Senator Schumer: I think we will. And you know, in some ways it will be like how today we look at times when there weren’t seat belts in cars and go, “Oh. Wow.”
I think what most Americans understand and what more and more are understanding is that the Internet is a dynamic place and you’ve got to conduct yourself on the Internet the same way you would walking down a street in a busy city.
Both are generally safe but just like you wouldn’t leave your purse or wallet lying on the street corner, you shouldn’t leave your personal information on just any website.
ER: That’s a great analogy, Senator. It’s obvious you are very committed to protecting consumers’ online privacy. Thank you so much for your time today, and hopefully we can chat again after another public event focused on wifi security.