The task of safeguarding financial institutions is becoming increasingly complex. Cybersecurity is no longer a matter of choice but an essential, non-negotiable aspect of doing business in today's interconnected world.
This article aims to shed light on the various cyber threats looming over financial institutions, introduce key strategies for fortifying cyber defenses, and share some best practices for strengthening your cybersecurity framework.
By implementing appropriate strategies and defenses, financial institutions can protect their networks, systems, and data from even the most formidable cyber threats.
Understanding the cyber risk landscape threatening financial institutions
Modern-day cyber threats are becoming more sophisticated and potentially devastating. Financial institutions, given their control over substantial financial assets and personal data, are particularly attractive targets. These threats range from phishing attempts, to ransomware attacks, and even advanced persistent threats (APTs) lurking quietly in your systems to steal information over a long period.
The threat landscape is further complicated by the fact that financial institutions operate in a highly interconnected environment that expands their potential attack surface. This high level of interconnectivity means a vulnerability in one institution could potentially have a knock-on effect on others.
Key strategies for strengthening cybersecurity
Implementing effective cybersecurity measures requires thoughtful planning, and several strategies should be at the core of every financial institution's defense plan.
Comprehensive risk assessment
Understanding your institution's specific vulnerabilities is crucial. A comprehensive risk assessment involves inspecting your organization's entire digital landscape — from software and hardware systems, to data management and human factors. The assessment should analyze not just your technology, but also your processes and people.
The end result is a risk profile that helps you understand where your weaknesses are and how you could be exposed to cyber threats. This knowledge is the bedrock upon which you'll build your cybersecurity strategy.
Employee training and cyber awareness
No matter how secure your systems are, they're always at risk if employees aren't adequately trained on safe digital practices.
Cybersecurity training should cover a broad array of topics, including identifying and handling phishing attempts, creating and managing strong passwords, and understanding the basics of data privacy laws and regulations. Regularly scheduled training ensures employees are updated on new threats, and cybersecurity remains top-of-mind.
Robust Incident Response Plan
Even with rigorous cybersecurity measures in place, it's wise to prepare for the possibility of a breach.
An Incident Response Plan (IRP) provides a clear, step-by-step process to follow when dealing with a cybersecurity incident. This plan should cover everything from the initial identification of the breach, the containment and eradication of the threat, the recovery of systems and data, to the final post-incident review. Each phase should be clearly outlined with designated roles and responsibilities.
Regular tests and attack simulations can help to ensure all stakeholders understand their roles, and the plan works smoothly in case of an actual incident.
Use of a Security Operations Center (SOC)
An SOC is a centralized unit that deals with security issues on an organizational and technical level. It's responsible for the ongoing, real-time monitoring and improvement of an organization's security stance, as well as preventing, detecting, analyzing, and responding to cybersecurity incidents.
The core objective is to maintain the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of information and technology services in your organization.
Privileged access management
This involves implementing and managing user access controls to ensure that only those with a need-to-know basis have access to critical information systems and data. Limiting the number of privileged users minimizes the potential for damage if an account is compromised, and also provides greater transparency and visibility across your network and user accounts.
Cybersecurity best practices
While broad strategies give direction to your cybersecurity efforts, the devil is often in the details. These best practices can significantly enhance the strength of your defenses.
Many software and hardware products come with default configurations that prioritize ease of use over security. These can create potential entry points for attackers. In July 2021, insurance tech start-up BackNine suffered a data breach that exposed over 700,000 sensitive insurance applications – all because of a misconfigured cloud storage server.
It's critical to review and alter these configurations to make them more secure. This may involve changing default passwords, disabling unnecessary services, limiting user permissions, or setting up firewalls. A well-configured system can greatly minimize the risk of a security breach.
Multi-factor authentication (MFA)
Single-password systems are easy targets for cybercriminals. By implementing MFA, you add extra layers of protection.
MFA involves requiring two or more forms of proof of identity when logging in, such as a password, a mobile device to receive a verification code, and biometrics like fingerprints or face recognition. This makes it harder for unauthorized users to gain access, even if they have your login details.
Encryption is the process of converting information or data into a code or scrambled message to prevent unauthorized access. Financial institutions should use encryption for data at rest and in transit to add a layer of protection that ensures even if data is accessed or stolen, it cannot be read without the necessary decryption key.
Regular patching and updates
Software manufacturers regularly release patches and updates to fix security vulnerabilities that they've found, or have been exploited by hackers. Ensuring all software and systems are up-to-date is critical.
It's not just your office computers that need to be updated, either. Any device that connects to your network, including smartphones, tablets, and IoT devices, should also be kept updated to prevent them from becoming weak links in your security.
Enhance your financial institution’s cybersecurity measures with expert assistance
Strengthening cybersecurity in financial institutions is an urgent need given the increasingly complex and hostile digital landscape. However, it's important to remember that cybersecurity isn't a one-time task, but an ongoing endeavor. As threats evolve, so must your defenses.
As a leading managed security service provider (MSSP) specializing in the financial industry, ThreatAdvice has the expertise, resources, and skills to optimize your cybersecurity strategy, safeguard your systems, and provide cyber awareness training to your employees.
Our regular reviews, updates, and enhancements of your cybersecurity framework will help ensure its effectiveness in the face of changing cyber threats.