August 25, 2007

Recognizing that defenses are only as strong as the weakest link, Bank of America has moved to shore up an area that largely is beyond its control: customers' desktops. In a move experts say is a step in the right direction toward improving online banking security, the Charlotte, N.C.-based bank announced a partnership with Symantec (Cupertino, Calif.) in which the bank will offer the security solutions provider's software to online banking customers.

According to Bruce Cundiff, a senior analyst with Pleasanton, Calif.-based Javelin Strategy & Research, the deal represents a banking best practice whose day has come. "Deputizing the customer -- bringing them into the security process ... adds layers of security," he says. No matter how strong a bank's security measures may be, end users' PCs end up being the weak links in the security chain, Cundiff explains. So it's in the banks' best interest to engage consumers.

"There are, especially with the online channel, activities and precautions that consumers must take to protect themselves that are completely out of the control of the financial institution," Cundiff says. "This includes, but is not limited to, installing and maintaining firewalls and using and consistently updating virus protection programs, among other things. ... If consumers don't engage in this safe behavior, FIs are generally the ones losing money [due to zero-liability policies.]"

Under the agreement, Bank of America Internet banking customers will be offered a 90-day free trial of Norton Internet Security 2007 by logging on to bankofamerica.com/privacy. According to Vince Steckler, SVP, worldwide consumer sales, at Symantec, the software suite, which includes the antivirus and antispyware protection of Norton AntiVirus, is designed to protect users' PCs against viruses, spyware and related risks by providing phishing protection, an enhanced firewall and defense against software vulnerabilities.

"We actually complement the security measures that Bank of America already has in place," Steckler says, noting that Norton Internet Security adds a layer of protection directly on consumers' PCs. After the 90 days, Bank of America customers will be able to purchase a full version of the package at a discounted price.

"As a leader in online banking security, we want to ensure that consumers have the most secure experience possible," said Lance Drummond, e-commerce executive for Bank of America, in a statement. "In addition to the security measures and zero-liability guarantee we already offer through online banking, we want to provide customers with the tools that help protect their computers so they have greater peace of mind with all their online transactions."

Cutting Industry Losses

Beyond offering customers peace of mind, deputizing consumers in the fight against fraud can help the industry cut its losses, Javelin's Cundiff says. "According to Javelin's 2007 Identity Fraud Survey Report, 47 percent of identity fraud cases are detected by consumers," he relates. "An increased level of security awareness among consumers in general surrounding their financial behavior leads to heightened vigilance and lower overall losses -- both for consumers and FIs."

Cundiff adds that deals such as the one struck by Bank of America and Symantec fill some glaring holes in existing security initiatives and are likely to become a growing trend. "This is a logical extension of what banks have been doing," he says. "The BofA initiative is just the beginning -- other FIs will definitely follow suit as they realize that their customers are seeking this type of direction from their FIs and that there is a viable business model."

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