How Safe Are Bank Deposits? No One Knows

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People who wanted to log on to Chase.com to check personal or corporate accounts found the site could not be reached, or ran very slowly yesterday. According to media reports, customers had similar problems with one of Bank of America Corp.’s (NYSE: BAC) websites. The Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Center, which tracks these kinds of problems for banks, raised its alert level to “high.” Like most cyberattacks, no one knows the culprit(s) or what their intentions were yesterday. Customers were left to worry whether their money is safe, even though the attacks may have only been acts of malicious teenagers.

Truth to be told, the banks probably have no idea why the attacks occur. Some experts believe they were part of a plan to raid large accounts. But, as far as the public knows, that is only a theory.

Banks cannot assure customers about their deposits in the age of cybercrime, unless they want to mislead those customers. The Google Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOG) mail site in China was hacked two years ago. So have the sites of defense contractors and several U.S. governments sites that are tethered to sensitive information. If sites that almost assuredly are among the most well-guarded in the world are vulnerable from the standpoint of warding off raids, what about checking accounts at the local bank?

The size of most people’s accounts are in their favor. Why would a hacker go through long and difficult work to get a few thousand dollars, unless the attack was sophisticated enough to rob tens of thousand of accounts at one time. Better to raid the accounts of huge firms like Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) or General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE), where the prizes could be in the tens of millions of dollars.

The banks’ problem is among those that have held back e-commerce, and may continue to do so for years. Many people do not feel assured that the systems that hold their money, or take care of their payments, are safe. And, based on the Chase problem, they may not be.

Douglas A. McIntyre

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