Financial Security in a CyberSecurity Emergency

Disclaimer: This content is the result of my having survived several emergencies of varying effect sizes. Most of these ideas are rules of thumb, and not canned answers. As in any emergency your best outcome will be if you keep calm, consider many options, and flow from plan to backup plan as required.

Money is only useful if you have it when you need it. Remember that barter economies almost always develop in an emergency. Make sure that you have something of value, knowledge, skills, strength, health, computer security, etc. Know what those things are, and offer them quickly to your community. Do not back-stab, and do not oversell. Often the freely given, useful help is repaid much more generously than stingy or treacherous help.

Stinginess, treachery, and desperation also promote panic. They can also seem to occur even when your neighbor has the best of intentions. Politeness and good manners always help. If your neighbor professes a poor memory and make mistakes due to sleep deprivation, please attribute those mistakes to health and not to treachery. The benefit of the doubt goes a long way. If you get anxious or angry, please remember to distract yourself and breath.

If someone is so desperate or helpless that they turn to crime, perhaps the community should help them find better uses for their time or help them find a way to leave. Remember that crime does pay, and it is likely supporting some other economy elsewhere. Use your best judgment and people skills to determine whether you think someone can follow through on their commitments. If you have a friend with good people skills, you might team-up with them.

Please keep in mind that politeness is a social force that preserve the good functioning of the community in times of emergency, but it also prevent outsiders from being alerted to the severity of the problem. These forces are often not intentional, and outsiders will not survive if they are prone to paranoid explanations for events that are readily explained by the declining health of the population.

On the other hand, communities should pay particularly close attention to how quickly outsiders acculturate to the politeness and bartering that preserves social order. People who travel frequently are in the best position to say how the local situation compares to the national situation, and are often in the best position to sound a security alert. People who travel frequently are also in the best position to help the locals resolve their security problems, as long as people can set aside paranoia, form community, and really help each other.

As a cybersecurity expert, if you find a vulnerability and know a quick fix, you are ethically obligated to your community to provide the solution to the entity or person who can improve the situation for everyone. Good communication is important, as is not over-selling potential solutions. It is up to those entities and people to act responsibly to implement these solutions. The youngest people, with the best health, might be in the best position to address cybersecurity, provided that the established authorities will scale-back the sales-pitches and facilitate the process.

Long-term financial security is best worked out in consultation with your banker and account managers. I will list a few rules-of-thumb that I have learned.

  1. Double check the charges to your credit card every month. Remember that credit card fraud is legally liable to the credit card companies. All you have to do is check the charges and make sure they are legitimate.
  2. If the fraud alert on your credit card goes off (you know this when your card is denied during a legitimate purchase), fix it as soon as possible.
  3. Have two credit cards available in case the fraud alert on one card is activated. The "power of two choices" is an extremely valuable fall-back option that is provably statistically sound.
  4. If you have an ATM card, separate your money into two accounts: checking account and savings. Most ATMs cannot draw money directly from the savings account. But when doing this, make sure that your checking account has enough money to help you in most foreseeable emergency situations, should the bank teller close.
  5. If you have investment accounts, watch them very closely "like a hawk". Investment accounts are not federally insured, and any money that goes missing is very difficult to get back.
  6. For all your accounts, you get the best protection if your account managers know your face, your voice, and that you respect them. People are always the last line of security for accessing an account. If a fraudster calls up wanting to get money from your account, the savvy investment manager will know that they are not you.
  7. Obsessively secure all written record of your account numbers and SSNs. Use a good shredder (i.e. shreds both horizontal and vertically), and when making copies, obscure account numbers and SSNs.
  8. Try not to transmit your SSN electronically, even if an employer says that they need it immediately for some paperwork. Try to use the phone instead to deliver the SSN.
  9. If there is any suspicious activity, immediately put a 3 month fraud alert on your credit. (Accessible through any of the three major credit beaurous.) These 3 month alerts can be activated through the web, and do not require legal documentation of suspicious activity. The vulnerability, is that it takes longer for legitimate business partners to verify your identity and good credit.
  10. If you have legal proof of suspicious activity and can obtain a police report, immediately put a 6 month fraud alert on your credit. The vulnerability is similar to the 6 month alert.
  11. If someone opens an account in your name, either electronically or in person, secure that account as quickly as possible by contacting the company that holds the account. Update that company as soon as you have a police report establishing suspicious activity.


  1. Check with your neighbor to see that they have economic options in an emergency. Help them brainstorm which skills of theirs are valuable in an emergency.
  2. Brainstorm additional vulnerabilities and fixes. Email the professor with additional ideas.

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