Are Your Finances Prepared for a Cyber Attack?


Researchers at Symantec have confirmed infections of the Duqu Virus in Switzerland, Ukraine, the Netherlands, Vietnam, Sudan, India, and Iran.  The Duqu Virus, rumored to be the “son of Stuxnet”, has been found in Microsoft Word files sent as attachments in emails and has been used to target companies involved in the manufacture of parts for industrial control systems.   In 2010 an Iranian Nuclear Facility containing centrifuges was damaged by a similar type of virus called the Stuxnet Virus.  Stuxnet was discovered in June of 2010 and targets Siemens Industrial Control software running on Microsoft Windows and it is widely believed that the United States with the help of Israel, developed the virus to cause damage to the Iranian Nuclear Program.

In a 2007 test at the Idaho National Laboratories, called Aurora, government hackers were able to insert a virus into the industrial control software of a large diesel generator causing it to self destruct in a cloud of smoke.  The test showed how vulnerable the US power grid is to cyber attack.

Should you be concerned?

Yes you should be concerned.  Should you run out and withdraw all your money from your bank and retirement accounts? No.  These types of viruses so far seem to be designed to target industrial control software used by electric utilities, water treatment plants, and industrial manufacturing facilities.  The reason you should be concerned is that if an attack was successful on an electric utility it could have a devastating impact on a large area, cause massive economic damage, and take days or even weeks to repair.

What should you do to be prepared for such an event?

Have an Emergency Preparedness Plan prepared in case of an extended power outage.   The scope of this article is how to prepare your finances for an emergency however, an event such as a coordinated attack on the US power grid is unprecedented.  Some things that you need to think about are:

  • List of account numbers, monthly payment, and contact information for banks, credit cards, investments, mortgage, utilities, cable, internet, telephone, insurance, etc.
  • Online account numbers and passwords for internet accounts you need access to.
  • Enough cash to cover expenses during a power outage.  If you did not have access to your financial institution would you have enough cash on hand to cover necessary expenses?  Do you even know what your necessary expenses are?
  • What if your financial institution was the target of a cyber attack?  Do they have a plan?  Do you have a plan?
  • What if you live in area such as Phoenix where the temperatures can reach 110 during the Summer months?  Do you have the cash necessary for travel?  Most businesses now are not prepared to process credit cards during power outages so you will need cash, travelers checks, or a money order.
  • How are you paying your bills currently?  Would you be able to pay your bills if the power was out for an extended period of time?
  •  If your financial institution was the target of a cyber attack, do you have access to other funds to cover your expenses?

Do you have a plan to manage your finances during an extended power outage or cyber attack?

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23 Responses to Are Your Finances Prepared for a Cyber Attack?

  1. PKamp3 11/04/2011 at 8:43 am #

    I would caution not having too much liquid cash in your residence since word can get out – enough to cover some expenses, but a lot is asking for trouble. A horde of gold is of no use if you get robbed, heh.

    You should absolutely have some sort of a plan in place in case you don’t have access to the grid. Looking at recent parallels like the snow last year in New York City, it can be some time before your power is restored. Just like you shouldn’t be living paycheck to paycheck, you should probably have enough supplies to last you a little while in case of an emergency.

    • Paul 11/05/2011 at 12:48 am #

      I agree it would not be wise to keep a lot of cash at home however, you would need cash in case you do not have access to your bank. A safe would be sufficient to keep valuables secure.

  2. 20's Finances 11/04/2011 at 8:56 am #

    While I am certain that the risk of a cyber attack is possible, I’m not too concerned. (maybe that is a bad thing). I do pay all of my bills online, so I would have to pull out the checkbook if something drastic did happen.

    • Paul 11/05/2011 at 1:07 am #

      During a power outage a lot of businesses would not accept checks since they currently verify account balances before accepting payment with a check.

  3. SB @ One Cent At A Time 11/05/2011 at 3:21 pm #

    My finance is safe. I don’t mind power outage lasting days. I have iPhone apps for almost all accounts. I think finances should be dependent on any cyber weakness, fortunately govt. has enough legislation and loopholes are covered. you are supposed to get your every penny back in case of fraud or electronic stealing.

    This is one worry we should not spend too much time on. Just know how to claim and get your money back in case of attacks.

  4. UltimateSmartMoney 11/05/2011 at 6:32 pm #

    For some reason, I am also not too concerned about cyber attacks. I stay really on top of phishing via emails and keep up to date on the anti virus updates. I also try to change my passwords frequently (i have a schema on my passwords so that I won’t forget easily…).

    • Paul 11/05/2011 at 7:31 pm #

      I gotta say I was not too concerned as well until I started doing some research on the topic.

  5. World of Finance 11/06/2011 at 10:07 pm #

    It is a great idea to be prepared for something such as this. Today, people are too dependent on technology.

    • Paul 11/07/2011 at 6:06 am #

      This was one of those articles that I wasn’t looking forward to writing but felt it was an important topic after hearing about the risk on the radio.

  6. My University Money 11/07/2011 at 7:36 pm #

    That is a pretty scary hypothetical situation indeed. The interesting thing is now that I think about it, I would be in better shape than most primarily due to my rural lifestyle and upbringing. For example, we often have lots of food on hand since trips to the nearest supermarket mean stocking up to get maximum value. I’m also not too worried day-to-day since we just rely less on electronics generally.

    • Paul 11/07/2011 at 9:19 pm #

      Before I did the research for this article I new very little about this type of threat, it is pretty scary to think about the scenarios. From what I can tell, the Department of Homeland Security has shared information with Utilities in an effort to improve security of the electrical grid. Let’s hope they have been successful!

  7. Evan 11/07/2011 at 9:55 pm #

    The Wife and I never have cash on us! Although we do have a safe maybe it would be a good idea to put something in it in case of an emergency. Notwithstanding I am more worried about a natural disaster as opposed to a cyber attack.

    • Paul 11/07/2011 at 10:08 pm #

      It is never wise to have large amounts of cash around the home. A safe is a good idea as is some cash for emergencies.

  8. Jen @ Master the Art of Saving 11/08/2011 at 6:31 pm #

    I am so unprepared, it’s kinda scary. I have been thinking about making things easier, just in case. ;-)

  9. Untemplater 11/08/2011 at 9:18 pm #

    Losing power for more than 24-48 hours would make me really antsy, especially if I had no access to charge my phone and laptop. Having important phone numbers and account numbers on paper is a good idea if they’re in a safe place. I sure hope we don’t lose power because of a cyber attack! -Sydney

  10. JP @ Novel Investor 11/10/2011 at 10:04 pm #

    Some good questions that I fail at miserably, accept the cash.

    The questions do present a possible investment opportunity in the tech security area though. Something I have been watching since early 2011 when a bunch of companies had customer information hacked.

    • Paul 11/11/2011 at 7:04 am #

      I know IBM is involved in this area so you might want to check them out.

  11. The risk of a power grid being taken out by hackers seems pretty remote. I should probably have some cash stashed around the house in case of emergencies, but realistically, I’m probably not going to do that. I’d take comfort in knowing my neighbors are just as moneyless and frustrated as I am.

    • Paul 11/11/2011 at 7:03 am #

      You might want to google it Shawanda. I had no idea the extent of the risk before I wrote this piece.

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