Common Cyberwarfare faced by the Financial Sector

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By Chris Jones

The rate at which banks, credit card companies, cryptocurrency exchanges, brokerage firms, and other financial institutions are threatened with cyberattacks should come as no surprise. This is obviously due to the value of the data and assets under the control of these institutions which makes them attractive prey to cybercriminals. All these banks come under attack very frequently and explained below are a couple of these attacks.

Cyber Risks common to all Financial Institutions
Dedicated Denial of Service (DDoS): This is a form of attack in which servers, databases or resources of an institution are overloaded with traffic, messages or corrupted packets in a bid to slow down the operations of the system or ultimately shut the system down.
DDoS is getting very common among financial institutions because of the huge leverage these cyber criminals seem to have over them – with respect to assets or intellectual properties.
There are a couple of times where some institutions have had to pay some form of ransom to avoid their entire system being taken down or intellectual properties published on the internet.

Social Engineering: In addition to DDoS, social engineering is another popular way financial institutions get attacked. Often times, these engineered attacks end up leading to data breaches.
The initial point of attack here is employees’ devices that get connected to the network. Attackers do this by gaining the trust of the employee and afterward, obtaining some form of access to the network. In most cases, the employee might not be aware of the impending damage until it has been executed.

Spearfishing: In more sophisticated attacks, spearfishing is used in conjunction with social engineering. Here, an employee is sent an email or request which is made to seem legitimate and from a trusted source – usually purported to be from senior staff of the organization. A popular example of spearfishing was the “Carbanak” campaign orchestrated in 2015.
This attack was directed at Australian banks and as a result of those that got compromised, the attackers made away with about $1.3 billion from 100 banks in 30 different countries. The Carbanak campaign got top-level staff in the banks to download the malware which then made its way into the system, initiating wire transfers. Another variant of the malware caused ATMs to dispense money without any legitimate withdrawal made.
The risks associated with social engineering are devastating and security experts are fully aware. Statistics show that well over two-thirds of socially engineered attacks are done with employees’ login details while attacks done with customers’ details account for about 1.5% of these attacks.

Checkmating Cyberattacks in the Financial Sector
Realizing how dangerous the risks associated with these attacks are, the following measures are steps currently taking to counter these risks:
Insurance Coverage: Although insurance companies would require some certain level of protection implemented by the organization, financial institutions are exploring cyber insurance policies that help with recoveries in the event of a cyberattack or a security breach. This option is often chosen by institutions that aren’t confident in the response plans put in place to recover from an attack.

Use a VPN: VPN, also known as Virtual Private Network is a software used for adding an extra layer of security to networks. It does this by encrypting the data being transferred from sender to receiver so that the message if intercepted, will make no sense to the entity who intercepts it. For financial institutions and their customers, using a secure VPN should come at little or no cost when compared to the benefits it offers.

Contain the effect of unfortunate attacks: One thing business hold dear asides the data and assets in their possession is their customer’s trust. Containing the effect of attacks involves retaining the trust of their customers. They can achieve this by providing services and resources – usually a third party or affiliated – that can help resolve any issues that their customers might face in the eventuality of an attack especially identity theft.

Banks will never be free from cyberattacks and with this, stakeholders must constantly update their security measures put in place to check these attacks.

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