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6/22/2005
04:49 PM
Patricia Keefe
Patricia Keefe
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Data Security: IT's Oxymoron

In case you haven't noticed, the last decade in banking has been all about mergers (each one bigger than the last), big-buck CEOs, increasing fees, and decreasing access to human beings. Sure, some consumer accounts got lost or crunched in the slamming together of newlywed bank systems, but who cared? Not the regulators and not the banks.

In case you haven't noticed, the last decade in banking has been all about mergers (each one bigger than the last), big-buck CEOs, increasing fees, and decreasing access to human beings. Sure, some consumer accounts got lost or crunched in the slamming together of newlywed bank systems, but who cared? Not the regulators and not the banks.What the finance industry seems to care about, besides the obvious--ever-more money and expansion--are two things: rules and computerization. If ever there was a stickler for fine print and dates, it's the money men. They cut consumers no slack and have done their best to obliterate community branches and any hint of a free service. When they aren't inundating us with credit-card offers and come-ons for new financial services, they have been relentlessly driving the masses toward electronic banking. ATM cards, debit cards, online banking--all are designed to rid the system of paper checks and human tellers, while simultaneously collecting masses of data more easily than ever before. Data that's sold, loaned, processed, and cross-tabulated again and again to rank our credit worthiness in order to adjust our credit-card rates and fill up our mailboxes with offers we don't want.

In return, consumers have gained convenience and ease of access to their funds, of course, but apparently, so have the ever-sophisticated thieves.

It seems in the rush to build banking monopolies and cut costs, the banks have been so focused on the front end, they've left the back end to their systems wide open. So wide open that the Anti-Phishing Working Group's Activity Trends Report for April shows financial services to be the biggest phishing target (84%) by far.

Little wonder we read today of banks scrambling to contain the damage from the recent spate of hacks and data losses. They spent bazillions on automation and the creation of new services, but not enough on safeguarding their clients. And among those banks that knew enough to batten down their own hatches, many have failed to look beyond the end of their noses at their third-party partners, some of whom are in flagrant violation of their banking partners' security rules. Who knew? Not the banks, but they should have known. They just aren't watching very closely, according to Gartner analyst Avivah Litan.

This quote from Ted Crooks, VP of global fraud solutions at Fair Isaac Corp., which provides customer-data-analytics services, sums it up: "Unfortunately, too many companies factor in the need for absolute evidence and the lowest possible cost for protection. This event [the CardSystems Solutions breach] was scary, but I wasn't bowled over with surprise, and it could have been avoided."

The financial-services sector can't have it both ways: It can't tell the public it's going to share our data with pretty much whomever it pleases (have you ever tried to decipher one of those privacy statements?) and then not protect that data.

And now that the jig is up, who better to feel the weight of rules and regulations, and the punitive sting of financial penalties? Now that's talking a language we know they'll understand.

Data thieves may be mightily attracted to the financial sector, but their reach is by no means limited to that industry. And sometimes it's unthinking IT design mistakes that leave consumers vulnerable. Do you think you have the right strategies, tools, and policies in place to defend your network and data? Check out our Global Information Security Survey. Your completed survey also enters you in our $4,000 prize drawing for a laptop or iPods!

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