Cybersecurity and financial services – how can organisations combat the threat?

12-Jun-2019

The financial services industry is naturally a lucrative target for cyber criminals. Financial organisations trade and control vast amounts of money, as well as collect and store customers’ personal information so clearly, a data breach could be disastrous for an industry that is built on trust with its customers.

The financial services industry is second only to retail in terms of the industries most affected by cyber crime –  the number of breaches reported by UK financial services firms to the FCA increased 480% in 2018, compared to the previous year. While financial services organisations are heavily regulated and cybersecurity is becoming more of a business priority, there is still much more to be accomplished when it comes to businesses understanding what measures must be taken – from the C-suite down – to effectively protect organisations against inevitable breaches.  

So how can financial services firms proactively equip themselves to respond to increased regulatory scrutiny and mitigate the impact from the growing number of threats they will face?

Mitigating the threat

Financial institutions were able to defend against two-thirds of unauthorised fraud attempts in 2018, but the scale of attacks significantly increased. Significant market players including Tesco Bank, Metro Bank and HSBC all reported breaches in the last year. Clearly, the banks’ cybersecurity defences have not developed at a fast enough pace. Cyber criminals can and will dramatically outspend their targets with increasingly sophisticated attack methods. In addition, many of the traditional banks struggle with large, cumbersome legacy systems, which pose significant reliability issues, as well as flaws in security.

Last year’s IT banking disaster led to thousands of TSB customers being locked out of their accounts, leading to fraudsters exploiting the situation by posing as bank staff on calls to customers in order to steal significant sums of money from customers. The breach occurred while the company was conducting an upgrade on its IT systems to migrate customer data to a new platform. This wasn’t just bad luck for TSB, but a failure to adequately plan and assess the risks that come with such a huge project. The bank has since pledged to refund all customers that are victims of fraud, a move which will likely see other banks reviewing their approach to the rise of this particular type of cyber crime.

The industry must understand that security incidents are an ever-present risk. However, organisations can be prepared - scoping a defence strategy specific to the firm, with processes for implementation, will mean an attack can be quickly identified, isolated and resolved, minimising business impact.

Appropriate defence strategy

The FCA has set out various cybersecurity insights that show how cybersecurity practices of UK financial services firms are under the regulatory microscope, as the cyber threat continues to grow. The approach from the FCA includes practices for organisations to put into action such as those that promote governance and put cyber risk on the board agenda. The advice also covers areas such as identifying and protecting information assets, being alert to emerging threats and being ready to respond, as well as testing and refining defences. With cyber crime tools and techniques advancing at a rapid pace, and increasing regulations, it’s no wonder that many organisations struggle to keep up to ensure their defences stay ahead of the game.

In order for in-house security teams to keep up to date with current and evolving threats and data protection issues, firms must invest in regular training. Specialist skills are required to mitigate cyber risk, which for some could be cost-prohibitive.  As an alternative, an insourced model allows you to leverage a dedicated and skilled team on an ‘as you need’ basis to deliver an appropriate strategy. With a Cyber Security as a Service (CSaaS) model in place, organisations can rapidly access a dedicated team with the knowledge and skills to deliver a relevant and risk appropriate cyber security strategy.

Crucially, in addition to completing a gap analysis and a multi-layered defence strategy, the model will also apply to people and processes. Attackers will generally aim at the weakest point of an organisation – often it’s staff. Human nature means passwords are forgotten, malware isn’t noticed, or phishing emails are opened, for example. Therefore, a blended approach of technology, processes and shared behaviour is required that promotes the need for staff awareness and education of the risks, in order to effectively combat the threat.  

Conclusion

With increased regulatory attention across security and privacy, firms must take steps to improve their defences, or risk severe financial and reputational damage. The issue of cybersecurity risk must become as embedded within business thinking as operational risk. Anyone within an organisation can be a weak link, so the importance of cybersecurity defences must be promoted at all levels – from the board all the way through to the admin departments. It’s everyone’s responsibility to keep the organisation protected against threats.

While the threat of cyber attack is real, financial services firms do not have to take on the battle alone. With a CSaaS model in place, organisations can start to take back control of their cybersecurity strategy and embed it as a trusted, cost-effective and workable core part of the business’ process.

Genevra Champion, sector marketing manager, IT Governance.