Ask A Librarian: Tips for Avoiding Online Banking?

banknotes at eh Ottoman Bank Museum
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Context: I wrote a column for Computers in Libraries magazine about practical technology tips. Here is an email from a reader.

Your December 2017 column, “Money Matters” doesn’t seem to contain any information that would advise or reassure a person who, like me, avoids online banking because she is, frankly, somewhat paranoid about identity theft. As you yourself point out, I’m not the only one who worries about that. Would you consider writing a column that specifically addressed those concerns?
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That is not a column I am likely to be writing. Not because I’m not interested in the topic, but because ultimately my column is a tech column and the solutions to not using online banking often involve offline stuff. Which is good! But at the same time, as much as I respect your own personal choice to not use online banking, I feel that it’s not the weak point in the complex system of electronic transactions that permeate our life nowadays. I feel like those are more like

  • debit cards which get stolen with alarming regularity and are used, sold, and traded
  • non chip-and-pin credit cards though most banks have done away with those
  • social engineering to obtain access to bank accounts through phone banking.

While it’s totally true that not having online banking can limit some of the access points, I sometimes feel that having and securely locking down ones online banking (using something like two-factor authentication, a good long password, and not logging in from anywhere other than a home computer) is actually safer than not having it and risking someone else potentially activating it.

All of this is not to try to sway you from your position which is yours and, as I said, I respect everyone’s agency to make the personal choices that work for them. At the same time, a lot of what I do is to slowly nudge people to make better and more secure choices that allow them to use technology, even as I acknowledge that they may choose, ultimately, not to.

quick parent safety lectures

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The principals of all the local schools got together and did a parent safety evening at the school. I was one of the presenters. I think they were expecting a big turnout, but it was a small (but interested) crowd. I did two very short presentations

1. Ten apps in ten minutes. For parents who are not using mobile devices for social purposes outside of facebook, knowing what the various apps are and what they do can be useful. I just had a very basic slide deck and talked over some images of the apps. I had to learn to use Snapchat which was sort of hilarious.

2. “How the heck does this work” a short talk about things parents can control in their home internet environment and what they can’t. Obviously the standard line is that the best thing you can do is talk to your kids and this is more useful than just using technological tools on what is, ultimately, more of a social problem. That said, it’s good to understand what you can and can’t do with the technology.

Most importantly was, I think, people seeing and getting to know each other and getting to have conversations about what their systems were at home. One parent charged all the devices in his room at night, for example, so the kids couldn’t sleep with their phones. Another had a “no phones/devices before homework is done” policy. Another had a “two hours of screen time a night” rule. I was glad to be a “local expert” of a sort who could give people some perspective on what technology can look like form another direction. The newspaper wrote up a short article about the event. Feel free to use my slides for your own safety talks.

would you recognize a hardware keylogger in your library?

Brian points to this article about USB keyloggers that were found attached to computers at public libraries. If I saw one of these on a library computer, I might not even be sure what it was, or that it wasn’t part of the keyboard. Know your hardware, what to expect and what not to expect and check out the backs of your computers from time to time.

little pieces of things that might interest you

A few links that have been keeping me from inbox zero for the past few weeks.

  • “…the increased popularity of the Internet in America has not been correlated with an overall increase in reported sexual offenses; overall sexual offenses against children have gone steadily down in the last 18 years” Note: this does not say “oh the internet is safe!” It just says that the internet getting more popular doesn’t correlate with sexual offenses against children. More from the Research Advisory Board of the Internet Safety Technical Task Force
  • Speaking of Berkman people, I’ll be hanging out in the Boston area over the turkey weekend and likely going to this event that Saturday. Anyone in the area should consider going, it looks like fun.
  • Evergreen is gaining traction as an ILS that works even for big/complicated systems. The Traverse Area just went live with their Evergreen implementation. Doesn’t that look nice? More about Michigan’s open source ILS project.
  • I’ve been reading more lately. I read Cory Doctorow’s book Content (my review) and think it should be required reading for librarians or anyone else in the various digital content industries. If you’d like a copy, you can read it for free online, or if you’re a librarian or a teacher, you can request a donated copy from the website. I already gave mine away.
  • FCC broadband bill passed. This might help Farmer Bob [my generic term for the people over on this side of the digital divide] get broadband.
  • Pew Report “When Technology Fails” (and even really great technology sometimes does). The results will likely not surprise the librarians. “15% of tech users were unable to fix their devices” and “48% felt discouraged with the amount of effort needed to fix the problem.”

MySpace and Social Tools

I have had to lobby this week to have the IT people that manage the computer filtering at the school I work with to give adults access to MySpace. In fact, I don’t even know if any of the adults that come to computer drop-in time at the hich school ever even try to access MySpace, but I know if they try, they can’t.

The larger problem is that the filtering software they use to keep kids off of a ton of different sites during the school day (Surf Control, if it matters) behaves … erratically. I have computer logins specifically for my adult students and every now and again I go to help them do something and find that Google is blocked. Not Gmail, just plain old So I call the IT people and ask them to fix it and they usually do. However, since I actually need to be able to access sites like Google during my evening classes, we’ve reached a compromise where they turn the filter off between 3 (after school) and 8 pm. However, they also track all the traffic that goes through the network during this time. They noticed, they said, that people were accessing MySpace. The implication was that 1) MySpace is against the rules and 2) MySpace has no value whatsoever and 3) even adults don’t have the right to use the computer networks to access social software sites.

So, I went to work and explained that the adults who come to drop-in time shoudl pretty much have the right to look at whatever they want, that MySpace is fine — I hadn’t been looking at MySpace but I had a page on MySpace that I might want to look at — and that the reports of MySpace’s dangers have bee greatly overrated. Read the article. Fewer teens are receiving unwanted online solicitations than they were in 1999. Despite this, we get laws like DOPA. That’s lousy.