Another day; another data breach

When you consider that cyber crime now surpasses the drug trade as the most prevalent criminal activity in the United States, it makes sense for a cybersecurity expert to suggest bankers be proactive by setting up a bitcoin account in order to pay ransom. Because when your data is held hostage (or you are locked out of your systems), time is everything.

A quick scan of 2018 headlines, however, reminds us that data debacles aren’t always the output of criminal enterprises. Sometimes they result from enterprising individuals who cross ethical boundaries. Remember how Cambridge Analytica helped itself to the personal data of millions of Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook friends — and used that information to advance political viewpoints? That collaboration sure did sully the Facebook brand.

And then there’s Google; when it learned data from its social networking site Google+ had been compromised, it kept that news quiet for fear of reputational damage.

The experts who advise the financial services industry say a proactive approach to managing cyber threats is best. Christopher Mims, the tech columnist for the Wall Street Journal, argued recently for every company to become a tech company by bringing tech talent into the highest executive ranks. That’s a tall order for some small or rural community banks, which continue to struggle to find talent even at entry level.

An Iowa banker I spoke to recently said he believed his bank was “more tech company than money seller.” The face of the institution is now its public interface.

This opens the door for associations, says Mark Athitakis: “You might think you’re in the business of serving nurses, or oil companies, or arctic scientists … but in reality, you’re in the business of connection, say, or education, or standards-setting.”

Rising to the tech challenge in 2018, not just in cybersecurity but in fostering bank-fintech partnerships, has been the Independent Community Bankers of America, which announced its partnership with Little Rock, Ark.-based The Venture Center to launch the ThinkTech Accelerator, a community bank-focused fintech program designed to directly engage and partner with fintech companies focusing on developing products for community banks.

It’s impossible to keep up on every new threat. Even the FDIC came up short on security testing. So what’s a banker to do? Review security protocols and ensure staff follows them. Get the board talking about tech. Dedicate resources to training. Remember that threats still turn up the old fashioned way, so consider locking the door if you must. And hope no one calls in a bomb threat. Maybe then you’ll be able to get a good night’s sleep. Just not here.