Friday, February 01, 2019

goddamn e-certificates

On January 16, I went to my bank, Shinhan, and got the stupid e-certificate on my cell phone renewed. For whatever reason, this certificate must be renewed yearly, which is a pain in the ass, and you can't do any phone banking in Korea without an e-certificate on your phone: the certificate is part of the security system in this country. Anyway, the process of getting the e-certificate renewed took only a few minutes, and I thought I was done.

A week ago, i.e., several days after the above-mentioned bank trip, I received an email from our HR department ordering us to prepare an electronic tax document. This is also a yearly thing; I recall finding the process annoying but doable last year: I was able to muddle through the procedures without any outside help. HR's email came with a PDF set of instructions on how to enter the tax website and confirm one's own information; the instructions also included steps for generating a bank e-certificate to be installed either on one's desktop computer or on a thumb drive. I became frustrated after seemingly successfully downloading my bank's e-certificate onto a thumb drive, then being unable to access the certificate when I went to the tax website. Giving up after toiling fruitlessly at the task for over an hour, I visited the bank the following day. The staffers there told me that I couldn't see the certificate on the drive because it wasn't there, and they offered to download the certificate to my thumb drive. This took two staffers and about ten minutes, during which time I mentally posed myself a How many bank staffers does it take to download a fucking e-certificate? riddle.

With the certificate now on my phone, I went back to the office... and was still unable to complete the tax-website process. I sent an email to HR, asking for S—the staffer who had sent the email with the PDF—to come down and help me. S came down, and after encountering the same problems on my computer as I'd encountered, she told me that she thought something was wrong with my computer, so we should move downstairs to HR to try everything again on her computer. So we moved downstairs, thumb drive and all, and S was finally able to access my e-certificate, go into the tax website, and click through everything that needed to be verified. She essentially did all my work for me, so I naturally felt a mix of powerlessness and grudging gratitude. It's astounding how many computer-related problems require the help of staffers to resolve; on my own, I'm used to solving my own problems, but given the Byzantine nature of many Korean websites, plus the random rule and policy changes at banks and other offices, I find myself in need of my own Virgil to guide me through this fresh hell. How was I able to get through this tax procedure without help last year? It's a mystery.

To review: at this point, I had generated a second e-certificate—one that now sat in my thumb drive. I thought my troubles were over, but a few days later, when I tried to use my phone to check my bank balance, I received a warning saying that my phone's e-certificate had been "discarded." Solve one problem, and another pops up, I thought. I spent a few minutes on my own trying to recover my damn certificate, but no luck. So the following day, I went back to my bank, once again, to ask for my e-certificate back. The overly caffeinated teller, speaking in rapidfire Korean, explained to me the procedure by which I could "copy" the e-certificate onto my phone by going to the bank website while also opening my phone's banking app, then following the procedure that she laid out on a sheet of paper in a frenzied scribble.

But at least the procedure worked, and instead of nullifying the thumb drive's e-certificate while reactivating my phone's certificate, it gave me back my phone's e-certificate while also preserving the thumb-drive certificate. I now have two active e-certificates.

So now, everything's fine. But it chaps my ass every time I think about how many bank visits and weekdays this entire affair took. It pisses me off that e-certificates are even a thing. In the States, electronic banking on your phone is simply a matter of accessing your bank's website (or using your bank's app); security takes the form of strong encryption, not bullshit e-certificates and whatever other Ptolemaic epicycles are used in Korea. What a waste of time this was. To be fair, I'm not claiming that all aspects of life in Korea are rife with this sort of inefficiency, nor am I saying such inefficiency doesn't exist in the US, but that doesn't prevent this particular inconvenience from being supremely annoying.

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