One of my favorite posts of the last week, and one of the scariest, is Brian Krebs’ Washington Post article on Businesses Are Reluctant to Report Online Fraud. This is not a report on a single major bank heist, but instead what many of us have worried about for a long time in Internet fraud: automated, distributed and repeatable theft. The worry has never been the single million-dollar theft, but scalable, repeatable theft of electronic funds. We are going to be hearing a lot more about this in the coming year. The question that will be discussed is who’s to blame in these situations? The customer for having almost no security on their small business computer and being completely ignorant of basic security precautions? The bank, both for having crummy authentication and fraud detection, with an understanding the security threats as part of their business model? Is it contributory negligence? This issue will gain more national attention as more businesses have their bank say “too bad, your computer was hacked!” Let’s face it, the bank has your money. They are the scorekeeper and if they say you withdrew your money, the burden of proof is on you to show they are wrong. And no one wants to make them mad for fear they might tell you to piss off. The lines of responsibility need to be drawn.
I feel like I am the last person in the U.S. to say this, but I don’t do my banking on line. Would it be convenient? Sure, but I think it’s too risky. My bank account information? Not going to see a computer, or at least a computer I own because I cannot afford to make a mistake. I asked a handful of security researches I was having lunch with during Defcon – who know a heck of a lot more about web hacking than I do – if they did their banking online. They all said they did, saying “It’s convenient.” Me? I have to use my computer for research, and I am way too worried that I would make one simple mistake and be completely hosed and have to rebuild from scratch … after my checking account was cleaned out. In each of the last two years, the majority of the people I spoke with at Black Hat/Defcon … no, let’s make that the overwhelming majority of the people I have spoken with overall, had an ‘Oh $&(#’ moment at the conference. At some point we said to ourselves “These threats are really bad!” Granted, many of the security researchers I spoke with take extraordinary precautions, but we need to recognize how badly the browsers and web apps we use every day are fundamentally broken from a security standpoint. We need to acknowledge that out of the box, PCs are insecure and the people who use them are willfully ignorant of security. I may be the last person with a computer who simply won’t budge on this subject. I even get mad when the bank sends me a credit card that has ATM capabilities as a convenience for me. I did not ask for that ‘feature’ and I don’t want the liability. While the banks keep sending me incentives and encouragements to do it, I think online banking remains too risky unless you have a dedicated machine. Maybe banks will start issues smart tokens or some additional security measures to help, but right now, the infrastructure appears broken to me.