Wireless investing opens a whole new world of security threats

By Steve Dinnen

Do you trade stocks online, or even look at your portfolio in an electronic format? Do you move money around online? Going paperless means going wireless, which has opened up a whole new world of opportunity for criminals to hack, phish, spoof and otherwise thieve their way into your financial life.

Financial industry regulators are well aware of this and are developing guidelines to push back against cybercrime. In the meantime, companies are taking matters into their own hands; Urbandale-based wealth management firm Gilbert and Cook is just one example. In past years the annual ladies’ luncheon sponsored by them might feature some lighthearted fare such as spring planting tips from area gardening expert Jerry Kluver. Not so at the latest gathering slated for May 12: Cybersecurity is front and center with a guest speaker on fighting identity theft. Now that everyone has migrated huge amounts of their financial information to the internet, Gilbert and Cook wants clients to be aware of what they face and give them tools to fight back.

Like any firm that handles sensitive financial data, Gilbert and Cook is mounting a several-pronged effort to head off trouble. It is educating clients, by way of luncheon talks. It is continually bolstering its defenses against attack and deception (it will not, for instance, transfer any money without a verifying telephone call from a client). And it is taking measures to ensure that the businesses that deal with the firm have likewise protected themselves.

“That’s not something we had to do in the past,” company co-founder Marlis Gilbert said of some of the security measures. But the new reality is that everyone is a potential victim, so everyone merits a defense shield.

Helping out in this effort is Charles Schwab & Co., which is the custodian for securities held by Gilbert and Cook clients. Schwab has devised a 58-point cybersecurity checklist that it and Gilbert and Cook run through to ensure that their defenses are as robust as they can be (and adaptable to the ever-changing world of cybercrime).

Schwab is one of several vendors to Gilbert and Cook, and all of them (accounting, for instance, or document systems) have to have their own security measures in place, and be subject to testing.

So far, there have not been any reports of security breaches of Des Moines-area financial industry firms. That doesn’t mean that evildoers haven’t tried. If so, they’ve been thwarted by proactive steps taken by firms that used to simply invest your money and now find they have to guard it, as well.

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