"Big Valley," an early TV western starring Barbara Stanwyk, Lee Majors and Linda Evans, featured the Bank of Stockton. The bank has vastly different security issues in 2000 than it did when robbers rode up on horseback. Today, the villains are more likely to be stealthy hackers trying to break into the bank's computer system for the fun of it, because they're malicious or to get rich quick.

That's why the bank, the oldest in California still operating under its original 1867 charter, has come up with an innovative way to ensure data security: It has built a fake database into its electronic channels. Anyone coming into the system is checked and it is determined whether he or she is a customer. "If not, it sends them to a place that appears to be authentic and it works back to them," says Jim Lawrence, vice president and manager of information systems. "Once they get to that point, we've got them." In other words, the hackers think they've broken into the system, but meanwhile they are being traced.

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