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Think like a cyber criminal, prevent a data breach

Think like a cyber criminal, prevent a data breach

Cyber attacks on financial services institutions are becoming increasingly sophisticated and frequent. By using stolen legitimate credentials and malware to disguise criminal activity, these breaches can remain undetected for some time, making the financial impact irreparable.

Brian Forster, Senior Director of Marketing at Fortinet, the global leader in high performance cyber security solutions, says professionals in the financial services sector are well aware of such risks. He cites the Financial Services Edition of the 2016 Vormetric Data Threat Report, which surveyed 1 100 senior IT security executives at large enterprises around the world. The report found that 90% of respondents feel vulnerable to data threats, and 44% have already experienced a data breach – with nearly one in five (19%) indicating they had experienced a breach in the last year.

"This just goes to prove the sentiment, ‘it's not if you will get hacked, but when'. To which we can add, ‘and how quickly you learn about it'," he notes.

Where should financial services IT teams start in better defending their networks? Says Forster: "From sports fields to battlefields, there's an adage that has been used for centuries that states ‘the best defence is a good offence'. The idea behind this theory is that having a proactive offensive attitude – rather than a reactive defensive posture – is the best way to keep the opposition occupied and limit their ability to conduct an attack."

He adds this strategy can also be highly effective in the business world, specifically for cyber security teams at large financial institutions. "Cyber security professionals who are able to step away from the defensive side of security and think like a cyber criminal will likely be better prepared to put solutions and strategies in place to protect their data," he stresses.

Forster says financial services IT professionals should ask themselves the following questions to put them in the frame of mind of a cyber criminal in order to better their defence:

What industries should I attack?

Forster explains that before an attack is launched, cyber criminals will evaluate the landscape and identify areas where they can prosper the most. The financial services industry is consistently at or near the top of cyber criminals' lists because, quite literally, it's where the money is.

"However, aside from seeking out customer information to commit fraud, cyber criminals see value in stealing data like bank employee e-mail addresses and passwords. With this information they are able to pose as an employee to infiltrate the bank and commit theft. By understanding the industries that are commonly attacked, and the ways attackers try to get in, cyber security teams will be better prepared to put an effective strategy in place and make the investments, where necessary, to match the capabilities used by criminals."

Where are the vulnerabilities?

As the network expands, so does the attack surface. "With the proliferation of mobile devices in the workplace, employees working from remote locations, and more, today's cyber criminals have more opportunities than ever before to find ways into targeted networks. Additionally, when financial institutions acquire a company to expand their presence, they typically acquire the disparate technology that comes with it, often adding complexity to the organisation's security posture. All of these components equate to challenges that need to be addressed," points out Forster.

"However, nobody knows the network and its vulnerabilities better than those who have put it together in the first place. IT security professionals in financial services should look for openings in their own defence via white hat hacking and penetration testing. Since there isn't a single piece of technology that will be able to stop every threat, those cracks in the system that are both easy access points and lead to sensitive data should be the ones focused on first. Remember, cyber criminals are just human beings looking for the fastest and most financially rewarding way to do their jobs."

He adds it is also important to remember that employees are a part of the system as well. "An employee who is uneducated about security can be just as dangerous to data as any other digital or physical entry point. One way to test for employee vulnerabilities is to simply conduct test attacks. Many CIOs will send out fake phishing attacks to see if their employees will provide login credentials or click on malicious links. If a high number of employees fail the test, security teams know it is an area that demands added focus," he says.

"Cyber criminals are always looking for new ways to penetrate networks. IT security teams should be doing the same as well. By conducting threat intelligence research, cyber security teams will be able to better monitor existing vulnerabilities and identify new threats before they take hold within the network."

Best practices for better security

According to Anton Jacobsz, MD at Networks Unlimited, the value-added distribution partner of Fortinet solutions in Africa, cyber crime continues to impact on Africa's financial sector.

"It is a plague that needs to be faced and eliminated. Thinking ‘it won't happen to me' is a dangerous and naive mindset to have. Cyber crime happens across all industries, yet the financial services sector in particular remains an attractive target," says Jacobsz.

Once IT teams begin to act like cyber criminals, they are better prepared to proactively and offensively implement robust strategies to defeat attempts at compromising their networks. Forster lists and explains these as:

* Identify weaknesses: how do you address cloud and IOT vulnerabilities? Have your employees been trained in safe e-mail management and other everyday security issues? Utilise penetration testing services to find out where your greatest liabilities are and start there.

* Focus on compliance, data privacy and regulations: the financial services industry is so heavily regulated, specifically because of the high value of its data and dollars and the vulnerability of its customers and clients. Violations can be expensive and destroy credibility. Conduct regular, and even automated, audits to ensure all regulations are being met, and if not, find solutions to quickly shore up these weak points.

* Meet with the C-suite: the role of the C-suite with regards to security has transformed. Cyber security threats put a company's finances and value at risk, and increase the need for mature strategies to safeguard a company's data, resources, reputation, and brand. As a strategic business and risk management executive, the C-suite should have significant oversight and guidance in these areas. They can no longer be IT-only considerations.

* Implement an end-to-end security strategy that provides:
* Operational visibility at scale. An effective solution should provide the ability to run multiple security applications without degrading performance.
* The ability to integrate an adaptive architecture that's designed to incorporate multiple security vendors' products to enable security against threats from IOT to the perimeter, across the network, and into the data centre – both on-premises and in the cloud.
* Advanced threat protection, which provides up-to-date defences against the latest attacks. Many of the recent data breaches have fooled or evaded legacy security solutions.
* Unified threat intelligence and management. In this way, all components, networks and other elements of the infrastructure, can be easily managed from one place.

"For the financial services sector, cyber security is one of the primary business imperatives that firms must put front and centre to not only safeguard their clients' financial data, but to also serve as a business enabler and drive innovation to stay ahead of the growing threat landscape.

"Financial services IT teams that think like cyber criminals will be able to take an offensive approach to security. Understanding what makes the organisation an attractive target, and how malicious actors will attempt to gain entry, will lead to a more secure network and reduce the number of costly data breaches that impact the organisation. Implementing these best practices will enable secure services that deliver the peace of mind that their networks are secure and protected from even the most sophisticated attacks."

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