<p>WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Futurist James Canton sees today's credit unions as the most vulnerable of financial institutions to hacker attacks, but thinks their cooperative nature can help them become among the most impenetrable. "As security in its grandest sense after 9/11 gets on the front-burner of every government agency, media outlet and consumer group, all of a sudden consumers will begin to connect the dots and realize, `wait a minute the security of my life is based on my financial services, how secure are my finances, my communications,' " said Canton. Canton said soon having top security will be as strong a competitive advantage as having better rates or products. " Security can't be delinked from the IT strategy and IT infrastructure that credit unions need to upgrade and build. A lot of credit unions that are smaller don't have the resources of the big billion dollar credit unions. What I've been calling for credit unions to do is collaborate more with other credit unions to build a more robust, secure, flexible and adaptive IT infrastructure," said Canton. Share and share alike on security? This is an issue where CUs will really have to trust each other, said Canton, and he thinks they do. He doesn't think this collaborative effort could work with banks. "My vision of the credit union of the 21st century is much more virtual and electronic than it is today. Credit unions should get together and share best of breed examples of IT intelligence, and then go together to the big system integrators for service," he said. Canton, president/CEO of the Institute for Global Futures, says he's penetrated CU systems in the past, and wouldn't want to bet his own information that he couldn't do it at many credit unions. "Identity theft rose 1,000% last year. ID theft is going to continue to skyrocket. Organized crime groups across borders have discovered the vulnerability in the U.S. financial services marketplace," he said. What to do? Canton believes CUs aren't doing as many and as thorough security audits as they should. He also believes credit unions can't do them internally – they must use an outside vendor. It may sound expensive, but Canton advises that every credit union laptop, PC, and server have some type of a biometric device to thwart internal fraud attacks. The e-security measures should be tied to an overall physical security plan. Philosophically, he thinks credit unions are battling a "folksy, community spirit" approach vs. having secure systems. For example, he sees CUs unveiling things like wireless access to provide open access to members, but not having the security needed for wireless devices. Canton said Homeland Security's warning earlier this month of financial institutions in the D.C. area being potential terrorist targets is a big-time wake up call. "That is the first time we've gotten credible evidence of a terrorist element specifically targeting financial institutions." He said he doesn't want to seem prejudice, but credit unions with older board members especially need to educate them on the importance of security. "Many of them are not tech-savvy. If you're not tech-savvy, and are not on the Net, it's not part of your world. It's hard for them to approve a policy of the latest innovations," he said. "I'm not advising board members to get degrees in computer science, but use outside resources to come in and do security audits," he said. [email protected]</p>

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