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Financial sector at the forefront of cyber security

To operate effectively, businesses and other financial services organisations store, share and manage an enormous wealth of diverse information, making them obvious targets for cybercriminals. While many members of the industry usually have the budget to invest in the latest security, the most organised and advanced cybercriminal groups have also invested large sums on sophisticated tools to breach defences. And they too collaborate to achieve their goals.

Many of the negative trends observed by cyber security analysts and researchers from the past ten years continued and even amplified during the COVID-19 pandemic. This made the already-serious challenge of designing, building and operating effective cyber security infrastructure and keeping it up to date even harder. More recent international events such as the war in Ukraine have made the picture more complex, yet the chance of an unexpected cyber incident happening at any time hangs over most organisations.

Financial institutions are responsible for securing the data that they store and share externally, and this means that they need to continually invest in skilled professionals and the latest technology to reduce risks for themselves, their business partners and their customers. The data they manage is a gold mine for financially motivated cybercriminals and also, in some cases, for state-sponsored threat actors.

Every organisation can take decisive action to reduce exposure to existing cyber threats, and plan and prepare adequately for potential incidents.

It’s no surprise that cybercriminals find the financial sector to be a profitable target

Highest risks for the financial sector

Unsurprisingly, cyber security is a major concern for most companies and institutions in the industry, with the increasing frequency of incidents raising their exposure to risk.

Securing a vast vault of data
As well as data about financial transactions, organisations store and share an enormous range of sensitive, confidential, private and personal data, which would be highly valuable to cybercriminal gangs or state-sponsored threat actors.

Phishing is one of the most common types of cyber-attacks in the industry, which employs hundreds of thousands of employees in a multitude of roles, in addition to working with a huge number of third-party suppliers.

Ransomware attacks
Arguably the most serious type of cyber-attack facing businesses today, and certainly the one which can be the most expensive to resolve for any organisation in any industry.

Hybrid working models
With such a large headcount, many employees now work from home for part of the week, increasing the risk for phishing attacks and devices being lost or stolen. A hybrid workforce with different working habits provides more opportunities for cybercriminals.

Online services
Millions of people and thousands of businesses use online financial services every day, opening up the attack surface for threat actors.

Trust and confidence
Trust and confidence are crucial in the financial industry and that goes for businesses’ cyber security too. It can take time to regain any trust lost after a security breach.

Insider risks and threats
High financial stakes sometimes come with the added risk of threats from inside an organisation. This problem is much more difficult for companies to identify, prove and prevent because current and former employees or contractors have knowledge of, and access to, the company’s computer systems and security practices.

Highly targeted by threat actors
By their very nature, any organisation that manages money, regardless of their security maturity, is obviously on the wish-list of financially motivated cybercriminals.

Vulnerabilities in third-party supply chains
All financial services bodies purchase products and services from third-party suppliers. Threat actors look for the easiest way into any company and will probe the supply chain for weaknesses in order to break into their primary target.

Large number of endpoints
Naturally, such a large workforce using so many digital tools and services means a very large number of endpoints in each organisation’s IT ecosystem, which, in turn, creates an attack surface that needs to be protected around the clock.

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