While the financial services industry has long been a preferred target of cybercriminals, the threat of cyberattacks against financial institutions has never been higher. As technology brings enhancements, it also provides threat actors with larger attack surfaces through which to exploit organizations. Whether motivated by extortion, theft, political, or ideological reasons, hackers are finding multiple new entry points to infiltrate.
The consequences of a cyberattack can be severe, often resulting in financial losses for both the institution and customers, damage to the institution’s reputation, and even legal repercussions. To stay viable in the financial services landscape, leaders must innovate and adopt new technologies that enable them to become more agile and responsive to changing customer needs while prioritizing cybersecurity measures that protect their organization and customers’ data.
New Technology … and New Vulnerabilities
Digital innovation has vastly improved the products and services that financial institutions can offer their customers. Artificial intelligence, data analytics, and cloud technology make it possible to provide exceptional client experiences, but with those exciting possibilities come new vulnerabilities.
This same technology gives cybercriminals a larger attack surface to exploit. That surface isn’t just due to data centers—it also includes endpoint devices. These are often the initial points of infection, commonly carried out through sophisticated phishing efforts involving social engineering. Unfortunately, many financial institutions lack visibility into these individual processes and services, leaving the entire organization at risk.
Cybersecurity risk for financial institutions is also amplified by the recent trend in which workplaces have rapidly become borderless. More than ever, the use of home networks, potentially unsecured public Wi-Fi networks, and personal devices presents a bounty of opportunities for threat actors. Therefore, privacy and data security for financial institutions are more difficult to maintain.
The most cutting-edge technologies can introduce novel vulnerabilities and attack vectors for cybercriminals. Cloud computing, AI, and mobile applications are classic points of entry, but more recently, Internet of Things (IoT) devices, which are increasingly common in financial services, provide additional points of entry. These include wearable payment devices, smart sensors, and cameras.
Finally, financial institutions often rely on third-party vendors to provide services, such as payment processing and customer support. But these vendors might have weaker security measures in place than the financial institutions themselves, and that’s yet another vulnerability attackers can exploit.
Ways to Secure Your Attack Surface from Cybercriminals
All the above avenues of exploitation, taken as a whole, present a large and tempting attack surface to those who would harm your financial institution for their own gain. For that reason, leaders at financial institutions, particularly CIOs and CISOs, need to know how to identify potential risks and quickly secure their data before it is compromised. So, let’s look at several ways you can harden these points of exploitation:
1. Maintain active membership with FS-ISAC.
Being a part of the Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Center (known as FS-ISAC) is a must. FS-ISAC can help financial institutions reduce the risk of cybercrimes by providing access to timely and relevant information about cyberthreats and vulnerabilities. FS-ISAC is a global nonprofit organization that facilitates the sharing of threat intelligence among financial institutions, government agencies, and other stakeholders in the financial sector.
Membership is critical because it allows you to benefit from the collective knowledge across the industry. For example, FS-ISAC facilitates the sharing of real-time threat intelligence among its members. This can help you stay informed about emerging cyberthreats and vulnerabilities, allowing you to take proactive measures to mitigate the risk of cyberattacks.
FS-ISAC also offers training and education programs for members, including webinars, workshops, exercises, training sessions, and conferences. For example, they might facilitate an educational workshop on ransomware attacks against financial institutions. These programs can help your financial institution stay informed regarding the latest cybersecurity trends and best practices, as well as develop the skills and knowledge needed to respond effectively to threats.
2. Keep runbooks up to date and run tabletop exercises.
Runbooks and tabletop exercises are both part of a comprehensive incident response plan, which outlines steps to implement in the event of a security incident. Runbooks contain documented procedures with actions to be taken in response to a specific circumstance. These should be regularly reviewed and updated to stay current with known threats and vulnerabilities. An effective runbook can minimize downtime, and it also keeps all stakeholders informed during the deployment process.
Tabletop exercises are simulations of real-world security events designed to test the effectiveness of an organization’s incident response plan. Your team—including IT staff, security personnel, and business leaders—should run these tabletop exercises to identify potential gaps in the incident response plan, and develop strategies for addressing them.
3. Ensure bot and account fraud protections are enabled.
Bot and account fraud protections are important steps in allowing financial institutions to reduce the risk of cyberattacks, and both should be enabled at all times. Bot protection works by detecting and blocking bot traffic attempting to access financial institutions’ services, such as online banking or mobile apps. It employs techniques such as behavioral analysis, machine learning, and device fingerprinting to distinguish between human and bot traffic. Once detected, the bot can be blocked or challenged with CAPTCHAs to prevent fraudulent activities.
Account fraud protection helps prevent attacks in which customers’ account credentials are stolen. Account fraud protection detects anomalies in user behavior, such as login attempts from new or unrecognized devices, unusual transaction patterns, or changes to account details. These anomalies can trigger additional authentication measures, such as two-factor authentication, to ensure the user’s identity and prevent unauthorized access.
4. Implement always-on Directed-Denial-of-Service protection.
Avoiding a DDoS attack is critical in maintaining a robust and welcoming web presence for all users. Without it, you leave yourself vulnerable to an attack that can incapacitate your website, preventing all user actions. So, be sure to defang this threat with the proper protection.
Always-on DDoS protection works by continuously monitoring network traffic and identifying any anomalies that might indicate a DDoS attack. Once detected, the DDoS protection system will divert the traffic to scrubbing centers, where the traffic is analyzed and filtered, allowing only legitimate traffic to reach your financial institution’s network.
5. Implement zero trust.
Be sure to enthusiastically adopt the zero-trust model of security, one in which no person is assumed to be an authorized party until verified. Zero trust helps by providing greater visibility into network traffic and user behavior, allowing you to monitor and detect potential threats more quickly and accurately. It also provides enhanced agility so that your organization can adopt new technologies and processes more quickly and flexibly—without sacrificing security.
Start Locking Down Your Cyberattack Surface Now
Cybersecurity in financial institutions is not just optional; it’s a key component of robust viability in today’s marketplace. Don’t hesitate to proactively implement these five steps (and others) in your efforts to reduce the probability of cyberattacks and mitigate the damage if they happen. You’ll be glad you did. Financial institutions that start now will rest assured that they’ve done their part to keep their businesses as safe as possible from these dangerous threats.