The safest place for your money is under the mattress


When I was in school, we joked about people who kept their money under the mattress, that somehow those who didn’t use banks were less intelligent than people who did.The general thinking was that smart people kept their money in the bank, where it was safe from theft, fire and flood, while still collecting interest.

In the 80’s this was a compelling argument, when interest rates were high and banks really did provide security,but is that thinking still applicable today?

In June of 2000, Maybank launched their ‘new’ internet banking platform, Maybank2u, which allowed their customers to do their banking online, outside of traditional branches or even ATMs. Few years later, it begun offering online purchases and soon after the mobile app was launched.

But while online banking platforms brought convenience, they also introduced new security threats — and it wasn’t clear whose job it was to secure against those new threats, and who would be liable for inevitable financial losses.

Was it going to be bank who assumed liability, just like they did before, or would it be the account holder, or possibly a mixture of both?

The answer depends on who gets attacked, because not all attacks are equal.

Not all attacks are equal

There’s two types of attack, one where the bank itself is attacked, and another where the account holder is targeted instead.

When someone walks into a bank  with the threat of violence, and walks out with $30,000 of the banks cash, the bank absorbs all the loses. After all, that’s why your money is in their safe and not under the mattresses.

507d7acb92f46ed8d8779be14e3f2051But there exist another class of attack–customer impersonation, where the attacker isn’t threatening violence or even ‘attacking’, but trying to fool the bank into believing they are the rightful account holders. In other words, the attacker is trying to impersonate you, to get to your money.

And in the digital world, customer impersonation is far more common. Consider the case of ATM fraud.

ATMs identify a user by verifying their ATM cards, and then prompting them for the PIN. More specifically, the ATM first authenticates the inserted ATM card (is this card real?) and then proceeds to ask the user for the PIN (is the person the accountholder?), once an ATM is satisfied, it then proceeds to grant the user access to the account.

Hence if an attacker managed to steal your card and knows your PIN, the ATM has no way to differentiate between you and the attacker. Anyone could take your money from your account, by just having your ATM card and PIN, in contrast robbers attacking a bank would simply be taking the bank’s cash…not yours.

Credit Card fraud is another prime example, but at least in Malaysia end customers have their liability capped at RM250 provided they report their lost cards in a ‘reasonable’ amount of time. For debit cards and ATM cards are not protected in the same way. Which is strange because the poorer sections of society who need more protection usually have debit instead of credit cards.

But even credit card users need to be wary, because changes in the liability model are bound to happen when we introduce Chip and Pin. (read more here)

To summarize, customer impersonation isn’t the same as a bank robbery, when the bank issues you credentials (like PINs, passwords or ATM cards), the responsibility to secure those credentials are yours–and if those credentials are compromised, then you’ll have to shoulder some of the financial losses as well.

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