Digital revolution has a price we all pay

Published July 29 2015

Somebody stole your identity when you least expected it. You will be the last one to know.

You are not safe anywhere. You get gas at the pump, you buy food in the grocery store, you buy clothes at a department store, you pay for your meal, you buy things online, you see your doctor, you fill out an application for a job, you pay your taxes and your personal information is at risk.

Some can do a lot of things in your name, while you are sleeping — buy things, pay bills, play games, collect money from your bank and demand money from the government. That nameless, faceless and fearless person, with the computer at his or her disposal, can readily, rapidly and reliably destroy your name, fame, property and privileges.

To make things worse, many institutions by now demand that you do all transactions only online. It is safe, fast and cost-effective, they claim. When they lose your information, they simply say sorry. Well, they will provide you free monitoring for a year or two. What else do you want?

Protect with passwords, they say. A password is child’s play for a hacker. Many times, your personal information is stolen not from you but from somebody else. I received a “personal and confidential” letter a couple of months ago from my personal health insurance company, informing me that it was the target of a sophisticated cyber attack and the attackers may have gained access to all of my “personal information.”

They will provide me a “free” membership to another company for identity protection services if I call that company and give them all my personal information to enroll. And, of course, I can always contact the Federal Trade Commission. Very reassuring! I can always depend on my government to resolve my problems.

I received a similar personal letter last month from United States Office of Personnel Management (yes, the same one in Washington, D.C.) explaining to me their own cyber security incident that might have compromised my personal information, and I can enroll in a “protector program” for 18 months. I have never worked for the federal government, so how could this happen, I wondered for a few days. Then it occurred to me that I agreed to serve, without pay, for several years on a prestigious intellectual advisory council for the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute while practicing cardiology. Well, as they say, no good deed goes unpunished.

This is the same government that insists that I should pay my taxes online and that punishes me if I do not follow their instructions to maintain electronic health records.

There is always a price for progress. That seems to be the law of nature. As scientists and physicians find solutions to control one infection, another more virulent and mutated version takes its place. As intelligent humans find better and newer ways of conducting themselves, the perverted always seem to be ahead. The transition is always the most vulnerable period. The digital evolution and revolution is going through the same thing at this time, I suppose.

Constant development and implementation of technology to prevent the breach is the solution, not free credit monitoring after the fact.

Let us hope our government and the corporations are up to the task. Otherwise, the cost will be too high to bear.

This article was originally published in the Tampa Bay Times:

Rao Musunuru, M.D. Mini Bio

Dr. Rao Musunuru, who has called Pasco County his home since 1981, was instrumental in transforming a 50-bed rural hospital into a 290-bed Heart Institute at Bayonet Point/Hudson Regional Medical Center. He has received numerous awards and continually serves the community at large through education and philanthropy.