PITTSFIELD -- Electronic banking dates to the 1990s or earlier, and what those services require in terms of Internet security has grown exponentially -- along with the convenience factor.
Officials at the Greylock Federal Credit Union and Berkshire Bank said online banking for customers, electronic fund transfers, ATMs and all of the other features we've come to expect over the past two decades are generally safe -- but not without a lot of time, effort and skill on the part of the institutions' employees and their consultants.
In fact, the links most often attacked by Internet hackers, scammers and criminals who "phish" online for important information are customers and their personal computers, not the bank's computer system.
"I think the greatest threat is always on the client side," said James Wojtaszek, vice president for marketing and public relations at Greylock Federal. He said it is "incredibly important to use anti-virus software" in any electronic device and to safeguard personal information.
Tina Busch, corporate security officer at Berkshire Bank, expressed a similar view: For business customers of the bank, she advised, shopping for personal items on the Internet shouldn't be done on the same computer that is used for business banking.
With constant pressure from hackers and phishing programs emanating from around the globe, even personal computers with anti-virus programs might not stop them every time, particularly if security programs aren't updated, the officials said.
Both Greylock Federal and Berkshire Bank maintain alert systems that constantly monitor activity and contact online customers when an unusual transaction or change is noticed in an account.
In some cases, said Shenna Bradford, e-commerce department manager at Greylock, the institution's security system will advise a customer to remove a suspected virus from a personal computer or even temporarily freeze activity on an account if criminal behavior is suspected.
Busch said that, as with Greylock Federal, Berkshire Bank contracts with a large Internet services and security company that provides online banking systems and constantly monitors and updates them to deal with the evolving methods of cybercriminals. She and others at the bank work with the firm and with law enforcement when a case of possible fraud is being investigated.
"This is a constant dance between the hackers and law enforcement," Busch said.
Marilyn L. Sperling, president and CEO of Greylock Federal, said many more attempts at fraud are made using forged or stolen paper checks or fraudulently produced checks rather than any activity online.
Berkshire Bank's online system is managed through a contract with FIS, a Florida-based company working with thousands of institutions worldwide. Greylock Federal's system is managed by Texas-based Harland Clarke, also a large global firm.
Both institutions have a growing percentage of customers accessing services via personal computer, the officials said. For example, the number at Greylock is about 25 percent of the 70,000 members.
To reach Jim Therrien:
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How to protect your bank accounts ...
• Update anti-virus programs
• Use a complex password
• Monitor your account
• Protect personal data
• Sign up for personal alerts
• Watch for alerts from bank
• Avoid suspicious websites
Source: Local financial institutions