Keeping a Step Ahead of Computer Criminals

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Keeping a Step Ahead Of Computer Criminals

Heading off hackers at the pass is just part of the job of the systems integrity "sheriff' and her posse of five at Rainier Bank.

IN THE MOVIE "Superman III,' Richard Pryor steals a fortune by programming a multinational corporation's computer to give him all the fractions of a penny routinely "rounded off' the company's payroll checks.

At Seattle's Rainier Bank, Suzanne Berger sees that such computer scams --the Pryor scenario is based on a real incident--don't happen.

The 31-year-old vice president, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business, is manager of Rainier Bancorporation's systems integrity department. Her five-member staff prevents unauthorized access to computerized data and customer records, and, of course, the bank's money.

Formerly a financial analyst and head of her own computer consulting firm, Ms. Berger now writes Rainier's computer security policies, advises operating divisions on internal controls, and keeps senior managers abreast of the latest security technology, such as data encoding devices.

She works in the Rainier Operations Center, the company's tightly-secured data processing center in the semi-industrial Seattle suburb of Tukwila. In addition to the mainframe, Ms. Berger's division is responsible for the security of hundreds of mini- and microcomputers scattered throughout the bank system.

A technical background and knowledge of how banks work is a must for anyone doing Ms. Berger's job, said Craig Gable, a co-owner of Headden, Kossuth and Associates, a professional recruiting firm based in Bellevue, Wash.

Job opportunities in computer security are growing, especially for insurance and financial services companies, and for other large companies operating with proprietary information in a decentralized environment, Mr. Gable said.

Ms. Berger declined to talk about specific computer security measures at Rainier, but she points out that computer security is a priority for the $8.3 billion-asset, Seattle-based Rainier Bancorporation. Through its subsidiaries, Rainier operates from 191 locations in 10 Western states and 8 Pacific Rim countries.

Video Tape on Security

Two years ago, Rainier produced a 19-minute video cassette on computer security awareness for bank employees. Called "Data Security: Be Aware or Beware,' the video won awards in 1984 from the International Film and TV Festival of New York and in 1985 from the American Society for Industrial Security.

In the film, a well-meaning but sometimes careless bank employee, played by a professional actor, experiences a number of incidents involving breaches in security. With the help of a mysterious stranger, he is made to realize the importance of company security policies.

Rainier sold the film's marketing rights to Commonwealth Films of Boston because so many companies wanted to order it, Ms. Berger said.

Wire fraud, once a big worry for financial institutions, now is less of a threat because of improved auditing procedures and electronic countermeasures, Ms. Berger said. For example, the Rainier computer that handles wire transactions shuts down incoming telephone lines when an unauthorized entry is attempted.

The bank's programmers also are closely monitored and changes to the mainframe computer's programs must be authorized by several different persons, she said.

What worries Ms. Berger more than sophisticated wire thieves are teenage computer hackers who may try to gain access to or alter bank records. Only once in recent years has a hacker tried to break into Rainier's mainframe, she said. The computer cut off the call when an improper access code was used. …