Before the Internet, the most valuable asset a bank possessed was cash. Now, a bank's most valuable asset is personal financial data. Criminals still often try to steal the cash, but personal information, such as social security numbers, date of birth, home address and mother's maiden name, can be worth a lot more on the open market.
"Account numbers, routing numbers are very valuable data," said Lynn Starr, vice president of systems and operations at Easthampton Savings Bank. "You certainly want to keep that information safe."
Starr, a 1995 HCC graduate, spoke about financial data protection at the 5th annual Pioneer Valley Information Security Conference, held Thursday, Oct. 20, at HCC's Kittredge Center. Cyber crime dominated discussion at the day-long conference, where, one after another, experts in the field of information security talked about how criminals using readily available technology relentlessly search the Internet for unsuspecting victims.
"It's amazing how much information they can gather," said cyber intelligence expert Jeff Bardin, chief security strategist for Treadstone 71, LLC.
"How many friends do you have on Facebook?" Bardin asked the audience. "How many of those friends do you actually know?"
Bardin demonstrated how easy it is to create a fake persona online using websites that generate fake names, histories, and legitimate social security numbers. He showed how cybercriminals, in particular Islamic terrorists, use common social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter, Google, Yahoo, LinkedIn and others to gather information about people they can use for illicit purposes.
"It's freely available," he said. "It's not that hard. It really isn't."
He talked about how much information his students at Utica College, during a class assignment, were able to find about him and his family members through completely legal online channels: birth certificates, land records, marriage certificates, arrest records, death certificates.
"If someone gets your birth certificate, that's it," he said. "They own you."
It's not just computers that are susceptible to cyber attacks, conference presenters said. Cell phones (both iPhone and Android), iTouch, iPad, tablets, etc., unsecured WiFi networks, are also vulnerable.
Bardin offered several tips that people can use to protect themselves online:
• Don't use the same password for more than one account
• Lock up all your electronic equipment (computers, cell phone, tablet etc.)
• Don't friend anyone you don't know.
Photos: (Left) A vendor at the 2011 Information Security Conference talks to a student. (Right) Cyber-intelligence expert Jeff Bardin talks about the methods cybercriminals use to acquire personal data from unsuspecting victims.