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John Jaser

Guarding the Gate

How Spam Might Save Your Bank

By John Jaser, Internet Services Manager


For all the years Iíve been writing about Internet Security, I never thought I would write in comforting terms about spam emails sent to bank customers.

Yes, Iíve gone off my rocker. How could anyone suggest that spam, which currently makes up 90+ percent of all email transmitted worldwide, might have a positive impact on consumers?

My answer is that spamís persistence keeps the security issue fresh, and that is exactly what banks need as they dive headlong into mobile banking and social networking to capture the security-ignorant Generation Y.

Can or should banks forget the endless torrent of spam that somehow continues to evade our email filters, shut downs of rogue email servers, and arrests of mass spammers? Three years ago, spam was 90+ percent of all email, and that number hasnít budged since then.


Spam has even become mildly entertaining. At first, bankers and their customers were horrified to see Viagra and Cialis as email subjects in their inboxes. Then we began to get used to spam. Sure, it continues to annoy us. It may have caused hundreds of cases of premature carpal tunnel as we keep deleting and deleting those irreverent emails.

But spam has evolved into a wonder. My current favorite spam exploit is the Ďfree.cell.phoneí series. Itís intended for companies that use white list/black list spam filters. Instead of sending spam emails from free.cell.phone@ generousviewsallover.com, the spammers sent messages from free.cell.phone@ borgan.generousviewsallover.com, free.cell.phone@ edmundsen.generousviewsallover.com, free.cell.phone@ karaskova.generousviewsallover.com, etc. Itís all the same email, but changing the first part of the domain Ė just to the right of the Ď@í sign Ė makes the spam email much more difficult to block.

Who would have thought of that? More importantly, if the spammers can think of that, what else do they have up their sleeves?

Here is spamís true value. It constantly reminds the financial industry that our growing digital world requires planning, vigilance, education, training, and emergency response capabilities. Banks can never let down their guard, and neither can our customers.

This is even more important as financial institutions begin to pursue Generation Y via social networking and the mobile banking channel.

With its elevated interest in financial products, Generation Y represents one of the best opportunities for selling financial services in years, maybe ever. Gen Y also prefers to bank online Ė the least expensive banking channel available. Finally, Gen Y is colossally ignorant of financial matters, making them a perfect target for helpful communications about saving, investing, credit and more.

But coupled with the great Gen Y opportunity is an equally great Gen Y risk. This group doesnít know how risky its social networking behaviors can be. Gen Y members have grown up with spam, so they often delete without thinking how or why the mountain of spam keeps landing in their email boxes. Gen Y members donít consider that a nifty video might contain a key logging virus. They canít believe that criminals might exploit vulnerabilities in their favorite Ďappí to wire funds out of their accounts.

Bankers can make successful forays into the Gen Y market simply by educating this group about safe behaviors when banking online. From there, itís not a huge leap to discuss credit risk and savings strategies Ė which Gen Y members need to overcome massive debt and inadequate savings. These helpful conversations are exactly how social networking can build valuable connections.

Just think Ė all these ideas came from a simple observation about spam Ė the endlessly creative annoyance that spurs banks to greater vigilance. Spam should also press banks to create new ways to connect with customers. For this brave new world of mobile and social networking will keep innovating, and successful banks will need to innovate just as relentlessly as the spammers to claim and retain their share of the financial services marketplace.

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JOHN JASER manages Internet Services and Security for Avon, Conn. - based COCC, Inc., (www.cocc.com), a 44 year old firm specializing in outsourced information technology and support.