A couple of weeks back, I received a fraud alert from my bank. Clearly, this scared the crap out of me.
I immediately jumped online and saw with relief that my account was still accurate. The money was still there.
But the scare ignited a fear I used to not sweat, since I rarely had more than a thousand dollars in my bank account after going all in to launch a newspaper. These days, thanks to you guys, I worry a little more. : )
So following the scare, I started digging online. I had heard in the past from a few prepper-type folks say how screwed we’d be as a country if hackers — or a foreign government such as Russia or China — attacked our banking system and wiped out all of our digital accounts. Of course, there’d be complete anarchy if such a thing happened, and it is a scary thought.
But the more I dug, the less reliable information I found. It seems not many people want to talk about this, or if they do, you can’t find the info with a cursory internet search. (And what you do find initially is stuff written by preppers, which only further frightens you.)
I finally broke down and burned some political capital. I wrote a person who’s an insider on computer security. I can’t identify this person, but they agreed that I could print their answer, after I persuaded them it was the best answer I had seen anywhere. (They’ll probably send a virus to wipe my server after I post this, to protect their anonymity — they’re big on staying below the radar like that.)
At any rate, it’s safe to say this girl — or guy? — works for a major Fortune 500 company in their IT/Internet Security Department, and this person really knows their shit.
Their degree comes from a prestigious university, they regularly travel to pricey conferences with the best in the business, and they work with a talented team to remain vigilant 24/7 protecting an incredibly important asset from tons of super-sophisticated hackers.
Here’s the person’s answer to my question of “How safe is our banking system:”
My short answer is that against catastrophic attacks our banking system is very safe; much safer than our water, power, transportation and healthcare systems anyway.
Longer answer: Large scale banking attacks are one of those rare attacks that are much harder than they sound to carry out (most cyber attacks are the opposite, unfortunately). Besides layers of security protecting the account information, copies of all the information is stored in multiple redundant databases all over the world and any transaction or change in the account sizes is cross checked against all those separate databases in a cyclical fashion that has to pass through multiple fraud and error checks. Thus, changing someones account size from 10 to 10 million dollars isn’t as simple as breaking into the right machine and changing a single database entry; it would require breaking into a least a dozen machines at different sites and changing the information in all of them within a few milliseconds of each other and then changing the logs and transaction records in each of them to hide what you did and avoid getting caught. Wiping out all the account information entirely would be even harder because it would be recognized immediately and automatically reversed from a regular backup unless you managed to nuke all the different storage and backup systems simultaneously.
It’s not impossible, if my career in cyber has taught me anything it’s that nothing is, but it’s an extremely tall order for one account set and exponentially harder to do for a bunch of them. More to the point, as the Target and Home Depot break ins taught the world last year, there are much much easier ways to get rich in the hacker world than knocking over banks directly. As long as credit cards are plentiful and easy to skim, they’ll continue to get the lion’s share of the criminals’ attention.
Hope that helps set your mind at ease and wasn’t too verbose (I do go on sometimes …)
So there you go. Reading his answer helped me feel better about the situation, and I’m sharing it in the hopes that it gives you some peace of mind, as well.
Keep the faith,
Stan R. Mitchell
About me: I’m a full-time, action-fiction author with books similar to Vince Flynn, Stephen Hunter, and Tom Clancy. I’m also a prior infantry Marine with Combat Action Ribbon, and a guy who spent 10+ years writing every day in the newspaper business. Please consider subscribing for email alerts — I mostly post about things that either motivate you, inspire you, or make you laugh.