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Cyber Criminality: Best Practice Mitigation Techniques for the Financial Sector
12 November 2020
EACH YEAR, the increasingly sophisticated criminals of the cyber world pose new and very real threats to the financial services sector, making it a prime target for cyber attacks. As Safi Raza explains, the pace of digital acceleration and the continuous development of new technologies offers a constant challenge for financial firms. It’s a challenge made even greater by the global pandemic.
COVID-19 HAS changed the cyber landscape. Every financial organisation has necessarily had to transform its operational structure. The billions of financial transactions that once occurred behind fortified infrastructures are now being conducted from fragile home networks. In turn, this has meant that organisations have been forced to deal with a mass onslaught of new age cyber attacks as the switch of work to an online space becomes the norm.
As Governments wage a war against a human virus, financial firms are fighting an ever-more complex battle of cyber warfare. With criminals carrying out increasingly sophisticated attacks in the guise of many forms, financial services organisations need to make sure they’re up to speed – and fast.
Cyber criminality presents four main threats to financial sector firms who must be prepared to mitigate such risks at any point. Those threats are identity theft, data breaches, misinformation and emerging technology. Let’s look at each in turn.
Identity theft and data breaches
Given the fact that most of the financial services workforce has moved to home working since March, attempts at illegally appropriating person credentials are now an increasingly common threat. Malware – such as Cerberus and EventBot19 – and phishing attacks are on the rise, and indeed are the most prevalent reason for mass fraud within the financial services sector.
There’s nothing more valuable than data, especially so that data owned and managed by those firms operating within the financial services sector. The more sensitive the data is, the more lucrative it is to possess, making financial firms a prime target for malicious and persistent attacks aimed at exposing even the smallest of IT vulnerabilities.
Data breaches include not just the stealing of data, but also the manipulation and encrypting of it with ransomware attacks, which have risen sharply in number and severity since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Misinformation and emerging technology
Misinformation – in the main being targeted at investors – is a common technique for manipulating financial markets, and one which has severely affected the financial services sector.
Organisations such as NASDAZ and FINRA are warning of online market manipulation whereby misinformation and disinformation can spread wide and far. Financial services organisations are at great risk of huge cyber attacks. Many financial services companies must monitor market manipulation techniques to avoid falling victim.
As technology develops, the digital landscape is ever-changing, in turn providing the perfect breeding ground for white hat hackers to seek and secure cyber crime opportunities. For example, as 5G networks and deep fakes continually develop, threat actors are likely to exploit their weaknesses to pursue malicious cyber activity.
With the financial services sector becoming a key target for cyber criminals who continue to create innovative ways in which to conduct their cyber warfare campaigns as technology evolves, how might financial firms develop a cyber security strategy to adequately protect themselves?
Education and training
Financial firms have undergone a change in mindset, duly coming to the realization that the best way in which to mitigate cyber attacks is by aligning cyber security strategy with operational risk and resilience. That means from the C-Suite down. In doing so, they’re increasing awareness and understanding and enhancing skills in their efforts to make their company as resilient as they can, with the ability to withstand even the most sophisticated cyber attacks now an ongoing reality.
Forward-thinking firms are focusing on building an integrated view of resilience which encompasses cyber security plans. They look at operational resilience as the ability of firms (and their industry sector as a whole) to prevent, adapt to, respond to, recover and learn from operational disruptions including cyber attacks.
Those organisations with a robust operational risk approach will prevent events from happening in the first place via robust operational risk management and control frameworks that incorporate resilience mitigation measures. If those measures fail, they’re able to adapt and respond with previously created business continuity and crisis management plans.
If an event ‘crystalises’ then they have strategies for business recovery such as relocation and work from home strategies, in addition to technology disaster recovery strategies such as rebuilding corrupt data sets.
Learn from the risk experience
The most mature financial services firms learn from previous tests and exercises and continually monitor the horizon to identify potential issues. They’re always looking for issues that may impact their operations – including cyber warfare and the implications a cyber attack could have – to correct such issues before they become incidents.
Adopting an agile ‘prevent’, ‘adapt’, ‘respond’, ‘recover and ‘learn’-style approach is how the most resilient firms ensure they’re equipped to handle the unforeseen in the cyber threat world. Fortune favours the prepared, as they say.
Safi Raza is Director of Cyber Security at Fusion Risk Management
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