Small banks have big hacking problem

Crime scene tape

Think bank robberies are so 1930s? Guess again.

High-tech hackers are hitting U.S. banks for huge money, and the biggest losers, as in Bonnie and Clyde's day, are small banks and their customers.

In a recent interview, Dell SecureWorks security expert Don Jackson told Bloomberg News that cyber crooks are pilfering up to $1 billion annually from small and midsize banks in increments from a few thousand to a few million dollars a pop.

According to Jackson, organized crime syndicates operating out of Eastern Europe are hacking into the fat commercial accounts of small companies, school districts and local governments at community and regional banks, accounts that often have only rudimentary security.

"I think they're losing more now than to the James Gang and Bonnie and Clyde," says Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., who last year chaired the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence task force on cyber security.

What has changed since the days of the James Gang is that the smaller banks and many of the victims choose not to make the thefts public, according to interviews with victims.

Why? Because they might lose customers if word spread that they lacked the capacity to protect money on deposit.

Commercial customers who do speak up have had to resort to suing the small or midsize banks to recover the losses, especially when the bank's response is to blame the customer for enabling the cyber theft.

It's pathetically easy to beat up on the big banks these days. Their greedy fee harvesting and take-it-or-leave-it attitude toward their customers seems to know no bounds.

And yet, when I read findings such as these, I stop and wonder.

Would I really be better off at a small community bank?

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