The Achilles Heel of the Digital Economy

You may not have a computer, but if the Internet ever goes down for any reason, much of society could come unglued very fast.

Last year will go down as the costliest and scariest in history for electronic data breaches. Highly skilled Russian cyber-criminals, believed to be operating at the behest of the Russian government, hacked U.S. banks and defense contractors. And tens of millions of customers of major retailers had their email addresses and credit card info stolen by data thieves.

In November 2014, the Home Depot admitted that hackers swiped 53 million customer email addresses. Worse, payment card data for 56 million customers were also compromised in a malware attack earlier in the year. According to the Credit Union National Association, 7.2 million consumer cards from credit unions will have to be re-issued.

If you have not yet been a victim of data theft or cyber attacks, chances are good that you eventually will be.

What Happens When a Retailer Lets Your
Payment Data Slip into the Wrong Hands?

When your card accounts are broken into, the issuing credit unions and banks are responsible for re-issuing you new cards. And in most cases you won’t be liable for fraudulent charges posted to your accounts. Still, it can be a big pain to have to clear out fraudulent charges, change your account numbers, and deal with any damage to your credit or personal life caused by fraudsters.

Anytime you connect to the Internet from a computer, tablet, or smartphone – even on a secure connection – it’s theoretically possible for a third party to spy on your online activities. Or break into the files stored on your device. Or implant malware (malicious software).

One thing you can do to reduce your risk of being hacked is avoid using Windows or Android devices Home Depot senior executives switched to iPhones and MacBooks after the company’s Windows-based systems were hacked. Apple products have long been less vulnerable to hacking than products based on Android and Microsoft operating systems.

New Investment Vehicle Lets
You HACK Your Way to Profits

In response to growing threats, large organizations are investing more heavily in their cyber security. According to the 2013 Cost of Cyber Crime Study, the recovery costs for businesses threatened by cyber crime have increased 78% in four years. J.P. Morgan Chase recently announced its plans to double its cyber security budget to $500 million over the next five years.

What all this means is that companies operating in the cyber security space will do brisk business in the years ahead. A new exchange-traded fund that rolled out on November 12th aims to give investorsa quick and easy way to play this niche sub-sector.

The PureFunds ISE Cyber Security ETF (HACK) holds “shares of public companies that are heavily engaged in the emerging industry of protecting critical cyber infrastructure.”

The fund holds 30 companies, 85% of them hailing from the U.S. HACK’s top holdings include VASCO Data Security International, Imperva,Qualys, Palo Alto Networks, Symantec, and Juniper Networks.

Whether such a narrowly focused ETF attracts enough interest from investors to remain viable remains to be seen. It’s certainly not for everyone.

But everyone who connects to the Internet or interacts with the digital economy using credit or debit cards does need to take steps to reduce their risks. Have backup credit cards. Have multiple email accounts, including one you use for shopping. Don’t give out your personal email address except to people you know personally. Install anti-virus software, be careful where you surf, and never assume that anything you do online is 100% private.