The WannaCry ransomware attack in May infected more than 230,000 computers in more than 150 countries. FILE PIC

THE advertising people that American Express employed 42 years ago, who thought of the renowned “Don’t Leave Home Without It” catchphrase for their payment cards, must have been psychics, able to see far ahead into the future.

Bear in mind, back then, there was no online shopping, Internet banking and electronic hotel bookings. Yet, those copywriters had the foresight to see that electronic payment cards would, four decades later, play an important role in our daily lives. These days, we buy everything online and pay for most things without the need for cold hard cash in our wallets.

Credit card issuer, Visa, recently said that 74 per cent of Malaysians were becoming less reliant on cash and preferred to use electronic payment methods, with most citing that they did not feel safe carrying cash around.

Making online purchases and payments via mobile applications and electronic wallets are very much a part of our daily routines.

A fellow journalist here in Putrajaya, who is an avid reader, last stepped into a brick-and-mortar bookstore many moons ago. She gets her fix from Amazon.com and pays with her credit card. Another colleague relies on ride-sharing services for her daily commuting needs. She pays for each journey through her mobile application, thus avoiding the threat of being robbed or being fleeced by unscrupulous drivers.

Residents and workers here in Putrajaya and our neighbours in Cyberjaya will soon enjoy the convenience of being able to carry out more cashless transactions. With both localities set to undergo a pilot programme to test several smart city applications later this year, various e-payment facilities, including mobile ticketing in public transport and the use of QR codes (machine-readable codes) for payment at food and beverage outlets will be introduced in stages.

Earlier this year, International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed said the country’s e-commerce market was expected to grow up to RM211 billion by 2020, from RM68 billion in 2015. This growing trend is very much in line with Bank Negara Malaysia’s ongoing Financial Sector Blueprint for the country to migrate to electronic payments and to become a cashless society by 2020.

The national bank recently announced that overall e-payments rose 14.4 per cent last year, which was highest over the last five years. Amid all these advancements, if you are still queuing up at bank counters to transfer money to your children studying overseas, going to ATM machines check your balance, or unbelievably, holding on to a physical savings account passbook, you can certainly apply to be the next national heritage entity.

While technology has made it easier and more convenient to do many things, it has also exposed us to more security threats, including loss of privacy and identity theft. To enjoy the convenience of online shopping, you must have a username and password, provide your credit card/mobile payment details, create a personal profile and submit your home address. Sharing personal information exposes you to the risk of being hacked.

Yes, retailers and service providers can claim that they have deployed the latest security protection software, set up the highest firewall and installed advanced data encryption methodologies, but still the number of cyber-attacks continue to rise.

Last week, there was another round of global ransomware attacks targeting thousands of computers in dozens of countries worldwide, including Britain, Russia, Denmark and Ukraine. This latest incidence follows the notorious WannaCry ransomware attack in May that infected over 230,000 computers in more than 150 countries.

Businesses were hit by malicious software that encrypted their financial and personal data. The hackers demanded ransom payments from business owners to release the data.

It is reassuring to hear that the government will introduce a law aimed at countering cybersecurity threats and cyber-related crimes. Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi was quoted as saying that about 10,000 cybersecurity-related reports were made in the country annually.

Perhaps I have been watching too many episodes of CSI: Cyber, but I am wary of going overboard with this cashless society concept. I fear the day when I will not have cash in my pocket to support the soft toys street trader or help the frail old lady selling tissue packets at traffic light junctions.

Besides, I really cannot envisage how my neighbourhood car wash chap or my favourite nasi lemak vendor can afford a cashless point of sale terminal to process customers’ debit or credit cards. What about my annual Hari Raya Aidilfitri handouts to my nephews and nieces? I guess they could just simply pull out their smartphones and ask for my credit card’s six-digit pin code.

My 4-year-old son has been ignoring the cash Raya angpows from relatives for reasons unknown. Perhaps he has embraced the cashless credo, while his parents are still too hidebound to let go of the old way of doing things.

Nonetheless, digital economy is here to stay and it’s going to be quite a ride.

**With more than 15 years in journalism and a masters in Counselling Psychology, the writer is always drawn to the mystery of the human mind and behaviour.

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