Consumer education, intervention key to curbing cyber security threats 

By Amye Anderson
UCBJ Managing Editor

UPPER CUMBERLAND – Each week brings news of a new data breach. Daily news briefs warn of new card skimming technologies, cloud storage systems are held hostage via ransomware, and consumers are left trying to retroactively protect their exposed information. 

More than 900 data breaches were reported in the first six months of 2017, reportedly affecting some 1.9 billion data records. Perhaps the most prominent breach to occur in the last year was that announced by Equifax, one of the nation’s three credit-reporting bureaus. 

In recent months, the major credit bureau revealed that the Social Security numbers, drivers license numbers, and even the home addresses of more than 145 million consumers had been exposed as part of an epic data breach. 

READ: Equifax updates count to 145.5 million

Those on the front lines of the battle to keep consumer information safe must remain aware of the latest scams, alerts and breach attempts. 

Like many other businesses, Progressive Financial Group – which includes Progressive Savings Bank, The Rains Agency, Cravens & Company Wealth Management, and the recently-formed Progressive Tax and Accounting – continuously works to ensure information security. 

“(We’ve) had to prepare to maintain the safety and security of our networks and, most importantly, the personal information of our customers,” said Mark Norman, Progressive’s Vice President of Information Security. 

Part of that preparation, he tells the UCBJ, is maintaining a system of layers of security and monitoring systems. 

While customers typically only see a fraction of the security layers needed to access their account information – things like login/password combinations, multi-factor authentication – a complex network of behind-the-scenes components, including monitoring and verification systems, provide additional layers of protection for consumer information. 

“The key to these systems is our people that work in monitoring and customer service to communicate with our customers,” Norman said. “Personal service may sound cliché but it is the best protection for (customer) information.” 

Systems and social engineering tests are conducted regularly to prepare Progressive employees and affiliates to mitigate attempts by would-be cyber criminals. 

Visitors to the Security Center page on the Progressive Savings Bank website will find a selection of blogs covering pertinent security topics.

Progressive Savings Bank now also offers a cyber security education section on its website, offering consumers simple, real-world tips on how to better protect one’s sensitive information. 

Consumers play a critical role in the safety and security of their information and how it may be used. By scrutinizing each request for sensitive data, no matter how non-threatening it may seem, staying alert to potential threats, and by backing up sensitive data in multiple, secure locations, consumers can maintain tighter control of their information and reduce the amount of damage inflicted by would-be criminals. 

In recent years, the number of reported ransomware attacks has also risen more than 250 percent during the early months of 2017. Devices compromised by ransomware, mostly computers, mean the owner must pay a ransom in order to recover their data. 

“Cyber security at its most basic is protecting the good (customer information) from the bad (criminals),” Norman said. “It takes all of society coming together, offering best practices when utilizing technologies, and then being aware when things seem abnormal to the threats we face. News of breaches like the Equifax breach have, too soon, become just normal news and (are) not shocking anymore.” 

Amye Anderson is the managing editor of the Upper Cumberland Business Journal and can be reached at amye@ucbjournal.com.