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Financial institutions: Be prepared to confront cyber threats now

Banks must adopt a monitoring and response mechanism to cyber threats, says Faiz Shuja, co-founder of security platform SIRP.

From 2017 to 2018, cyber incidents reported by the UK financial sector upscaled by over 1000%. Over that time, the number multiplied from 69 incidents to 819. Reasons that explain this phenomenon are several: From three-party failures to software issues or problems when switching from a system to another.

Today, cyber incidents affect both financial institutions and their consumers. These are especially vulnerable since banks have a digital presence and attackers can more easily access their financial information. How can institutions and consumers be more prepared now that cyberattacks on the financial sector are growing exponentially? What is the best way to confront these threats?

Know your enemy

First thing first: To get appropriate protection it is necessary to acknowledge the cyber attacks the financial sector has to confront today. To begin with, there are the ones that constantly menace the consumer. These attacks are typically done through social engineering and phishing.

Social engineering is a widespread crime where a false call is performed from a supposed bank to deceive the user and get personal information. The call is usually disguised as urgent so as to more easily scam the user. By the end of the call, the swindler has all the user’s credentials.

Phishing is another type of social engineered scam done through a malicious link sent in an email. By opening the link the user is taken to a website that looks just like the actual bank; once the user enters his username and password attackers are able to record all the credentials to later use for illegitimate transactions. Another type of phishing is when scammers send an attachment that infects the user’s computer and records every action performed on the computer.

Also, consumers are constantly exposed to card skimming. This scam takes place at ATMs where thieves install a reader on top of the actual card scanner that makes a copy of the user’s card. This is complemented by a camera that records the user’s pin once they type it on the keypad.

More importantly, financial institutions need to be aware that they are vulnerable to attackers as well. Despite all security controls that organizations have today to protect their infrastructure, banks continue to be attacked with increasingly advanced methods.

Recently, Japanese, Bangladesh, Indian and Pakistani banks were attacked when a group of swindlers compromised their financial switch to approve all kinds of illegitimate transactions. In this case, the attackers actually got into the banking systems. These advanced attacks target the system’s administrators and then pivot into actual banking systems through them – which makes the attack even more dangerous.

Confront the threats

When it comes to cybersecurity attacks that affect financial institutions, humans are the weakest link. Therefore the best way to prevent the attack is to focus on the gaps that consumers and bank system administrators leave open without necessarily knowing.

It seems obvious, but if you are a consumer who wants to prevent an attack on your bank accounts, you need to be aware of any recommendations given: Check the ATM and get up to speed on any advance in technology like cardless transactions or transactions limits.

However, if you are a bank, beyond performing security awareness to your customer and employees, you need to enhance your security monitoring. In other words, your cybersecurity team needs to give the appropriate guidelines to your technology team so security controls are deployed 24/7. If you do not monitor all the time, there is no human that will respond effectively enough to a cyber attack.

Today, having a permanent security monitoring systems with an incident management program in place is mandatory. Furthermore, organizations are also moving towards Security Automation, Orchestration and Response (SOAR): Platforms that can be used to identify and respond quickly to threats and minimize risks by reducing human assistance will become more important.

Cyber threats are different every day. They get updated fast and are challenging financial institutions to get up to speed with them. Since risks don’t have a clear limit, financial institutions must work on strategies that allow them to be more confident when they respond to a threat. Banks can’t take for granted their security methods – a monitoring and response mechanism are a must.

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