SVB & finance stress: remember the (other) type of security

Now is the time for more vigilance, not less.

This is the week that the start-up world has been reeling after the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank. There have been lots of articles about it and about how the larger ecosystem (lawyers, VCs, other banks and beyond) have rallied to support those affected, written (on the whole, at least!) by people much better qualified than me to do so. But there’s another point that could get lost in the noise, and that’s the opportunity presented to bad actors by all of this.

When humans are tired, stressed, confused or have too many inputs, they (we – I’ve not succumbed to the lure of ChatGPT yet…) are prone to make poor decisions, or to take less time over decisions – even important decisions – than they ought to. Sadly, bad people know this, and that means that they will be going out of their way to exploit us (I’m very aware that I’m as vulnerable to this type of exploitation as anybody else). The problem is that when banks start looking dodgy, or when money is at stake, people need to do risky things. And these are often risky things which involve an awful lot of money, things like:

  • withdrawing large amounts of money
  • moving large amounts of money between accounts
  • opening new accounts
  • changing administrative access permissions and privileges on accounts
  • adding new people as administrators on accounts.

All of the above are actions (or involve actions) which we would normally be very careful about, and take very seriously (though that doesn’t stop us making the occasional mistake). The problem (and the opportunity for bad actors) is that when we’re stressed or in a hurry (as we’re likely to be in the current situation), we may pay less attention to important steps than we might otherwise. We might not enable multi-factor authentication, we might not check website certificates, we might click-through on seemingly helpful offers in emails to help us out, or we might not check the email addresses to which we’re sending invitations. All of these could lead bad folks to get at our money. They know this, and they’ll be going out of their way to find ways to encourage us to make mistakes, be less careful or hurry our way through vital processes.

My plea, then, is simple: don’t drop your guard because of the stress of the current situation. Now is the time for more vigilance, not less.