Thursday, August 11, 2011

The HKEx incident reminder

Horror, horror.  HKEx's computer system was hacked.  You may think that such security incidents occur everyday and they may not necessarily affect us.  But this particular case has some far-reaching consequences.  First, trading of some stocks was suspended leading to unspecified loss to some.  Second, the possibility of an infrastructure computer system being hacked is a reminder of our fragile world.  Some analysts said that HKEx was to be blamed for first, unnecessarily suspending trading, and second, being unable to put the security of the systems in order.  But that is besides the point.  Management decisions are frequently wrong, and computer systems cannot be 100% protected.

We now extremely rely on the computer systems and the Internet in particular in our daily life.  I try to count how much I rely on them and find a lot.  I no longer buy newspapers but read news online and on TV.  I have very little cash in the pocket because goods and services are mostly paid by credit cards and the Octopus.  I do not have bank statements which are now in digital form to be downloaded.  I do not have bills because all are paperless and are paid by direct bank transfer.  The best use of cash is to pay taxi fare, but I heard Octopus readers are now installed in some taxis.  I discussed with some friends who have computer-phobia and they said they bought newspapers, held bank books and received bank statements, got their bills by post and sent their cheques also by post.  I told them that they still could not escape the demise of computer failure because all these providers are using computers.  When the systems fail, there will be no newspaper, statements or bills, or for that matter, no service at all.

We can only survive in a city with infrastructure working properly.  A short disruption of the MTR would create chaos, similarly for electricity and water and many trivial but essential services.  The Internet is another vulnerability.  Any disruption, like the earthquake in Taiwan a few years back, will stop the world built on the Internet.  Even a slow down is a very serious matter.  But I am not as pessimistic as many people with paranoid.  I think the very large systems are organic and they normally have the power of healing themselves.  Of course we could not rule out the black swan which might completely wipe out human beings on earth.  But we could only prepare ourselves for incidents which could be prevented or salvaged.

For us, the Internet can only be left on its own, and computer hardware can be replaced.  But our data are invaluable.  If lost, all that left are those we could barely remember.  So my first concern is to preserve the personal data I collected over the years.  In the past, I stored them on floppy disks, which deteriorated in just a few years.  Then I put them on the so-called everlasting CD.  It turns out although the data bits may be everlasting, the disks are not.  They could be scratched, stained and then unreadable.  Then come the memory cards which are convenient.  But they can still be destroyed by static electricity.  The more reliable media are the hard disks.  They can still fail but at least they are more robust.  I back up all my data in two separate hard disks.  In addition, I also store the most essential data in two more smaller hard disks.  The up-to-date trend of storage is in the cloud because security and encryption have improved.  So I also store the most essential data in the cloud, and in two separate locations.   Now comes the problem.  How can I keep all six backup copies up-to-date?  The truth is that I cannot.  Some are just backed up monthly and so they are actually always some weeks out of date.  Luckily one cloud service is automatic and it backs up my data once every night.  However, my experience is still scary.  Last month when I urgently needed to recover the essential data, the cloud server was out-of-service and I had to wait for 24 hours to get it done.

We live in a world of uncertainty.  Praying may only give you consolation.  Just accept it as a way of life.

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Disruption of HKExnews Website Services    HKEx News Release   10/08/2011

Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Limited (HKEx) announced today (Wednesday) that HKExnews website services are being interrupted due to technical problems. Contingency measures have been invoked until further notice to provide for the continued dissemination of issuers’ regulatory news.  HKEx’s other systems are not affected and trading in its securities and derivatives markets continues to operate normally.  HKEx is now investigating the problem and the HKExnews website services will resume as soon as the technical problem is resolved.

As a result of the website service disruption, issuer documents submitted to HKEx for publication on the HKExnews website (www.hkexnews.hk) and the Growth Enterprise Market website (www.hkgem.com) may not be published on the HKExnews website. 

HKEx has adopted a half day (i.e. one trading session) suspension policy for issuers which announce price sensitive information during the lunch publication window today.  This trading suspension policy aims to give all investors sufficient time to understand the contingency arrangements and locate issuers’ announcements on their websites.   Trading in an issuer’s shares will also be suspended if price sensitive information announcements are not timely posted on an issuer’s website and/or the headlines and document titles are not timely posted on the Bulletin Board.
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