Data Security: Behind the Headlines

Article excerpt

THE TRUST OF OUR CUSTOMERS IS the single most important asset we have as an industry. When it comes to securing peoples' financial information, there are no half-way measures. All bankers, I'm convinced, understand this and work hard to protect their customers' information. Yet we must acknowledge that the world has become a riskier place to do business.

Data loss has occurred at big banks. Small banks. Credit card companies. Universities. Even government agencies. No organization is immune from having its secure data suddenly become insecure. Unfortunately, even when the breach occurs at a retailer or service provider, banks often get the headlines if the breach involves financial information.

In one incident reported in June, a computer hacker tried to obtain the names, banks and account numbers of as many as 40 million credit card customers. Fortunately the actual number of customers affected was significantly less. In another incident, the FDIC reported a data loss affecting some 6,000 of the agency's employees.

Such losses can happen through fraud, the willful action of untrustworthy employees or simply neglect. Supposedly secure data has sometimes, inexplicably, turned up lost.

The media, of course, is having a field day. "Millions" of consumers, they say, have had their personal information stolen by identity thieves. What they're not reporting is that a loss of customer information does not necessarily translate into thieves getting it and using the information in ways that hurt consumers. Has it happened? Yes. Is it happening as frequently as the press reports? That's unlikely.

Still, data loss and fraud attempts are on the rise. Phishing-the act of drawing unsuspecting consumers to fake Web sites for the purpose of stealing their personal information-is still taking place despite efforts to inform and educate consumers about the threat. …