Ah, the Web used to seem so simple and benign.
Having had more time for contemplation, I have two additional thoughts on this week's denial-of-service hacker
attacks on Web sites.
First, remember that it's not the
of your data, nor anyone else's, that's under attack here. These hacks on Web sites haven't tried to get at customer records or credit-card numbers, or corrupt customer lists, etc., but have just tried to put the sites out of business for a while.
TSC message boards.
Sure, we've seen other lapses in Web-site security, where confidential information -- like customers' credit card numbers -- has been stolen. But that has usually been because of specific security lapses at particular sites, rather than the result of wide-scale attacks. These lapses also haven't been a widespread problem.
Second, the importance of high-uptime/always-on status varies greatly from Web site to Web site, and depends even more on how I use a site vs. how you use it.
It's untidy for
investors, for example, when the site is unable to take orders for a couple of hours. Whenever a store closes unexpectedly for a while, it is sure to lose sales.
But does it really hurt an Amazon
all that much? Sure, it's a nuisance to have to go back later to order the book you want, but in the larger scheme of things, an Amazon.com, or
being off the air for a couple of hours is not the end of the world.
I can order that book, CD or T-shirt this afternoon, instead of this morning. And I'll probably go back to Amazon.com, not flip (despite my impatient, scratch-that-itch-
What about the impact on a portal, such as
? If you use Yahoo! mainly for searches, then it's easy to flip over to
for your searches for a couple of hours. The sun will still come up in the East tomorrow morning.
If you're an investor using
for stock prices, it's a bigger deal. But alternatives still exist. (Yes, once again, for Yahoo! investors it hurts to see customers go elsewhere for a while because your site is down, but does anyone really think Yahoo! saw a big erosion of customer loyalty during Monday's outage?
erosion? Seems unlikely to me. If you rely on Yahoo!, you
Online-trading shops seem to me to be the sites most at risk here, and the places where outages present the biggest potential problem for users. If I relied on, say,
for all my trading, and I couldn't get executions for a few hours because they were offline, I could get hurt. So -- just like most of you -- I have online-trading accounts at several online brokerages.
That's a nuisance, since the nature of settlement in the online-trading world requires that I have the cash in an account in order to make a trade. If I have to trade through three or four online brokerages for security, then I have to divide my trading capital into three or four piles, none of which will ever be an optimal size. In other words, the right amount of money may not be where I want it to be at the right moment.
But that's a heck of a lot less worrying than not being able to trade, period. Unless, of course, a holding in an account at an online shop temporarily offline starts falling like a stone, and I want to bail, fast. Then I'm S.O.L., in the old
phrase. (In polite conversation, that's "Slightly Out of Luck.")
But there are still alternatives. Do you keep your online brokerages' backup telephone-trading numbers handy? It's not quite as fast and convenient as online trading, but I also get great execution over the phone on, say, my
I like trading on the Web, but when a site is down I don't feel totally exposed. And I'm sure not going to forsake online trading because I worry about it. Or lose sleep over possible hacker attacks.
Gotta keep this stuff in perspective.
Jim Seymour is president of Seymour Group, an information-strategies consulting firm working with corporate clients in the U.S., Europe and Asia, and a longtime columnist for PC Magazine. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. At time of publication, Seymour was long E*Trade and eToys, although holdings can change at any time. Seymour does not write about companies that are current or recent consulting clients of Seymour Group. While Seymour cannot provide investment advice or recommendations, he invites your feedback at