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Banking on your IT – how financial institutions can minimise the risk of IT outages

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Banking on your IT - how financial institutions can minimise the risk of IT outages 1

By Paul Mercina, Director of Product Management, ParkPlace Technologies.

The cost and impact of IT system downtime has never been greater due to businesses’ increasing dependence on IT systems and infrastructure across all areas of their operations. Any system outage can have catastrophic impact on an organisation in terms of costs, lost trade and reputation. Gartner estimates the average cost of network downtime at a staggering $5,600 per minute. This figure is even more startling when you consider that British businesses are reported to suffer at least three days of downtime per year.

Paul Mercina

Paul Mercina

Downtime isa major problem for any industry butis particularly damaging for the finance sector where consumer trust is paramount. Many high-street banks have made the headlines in the last year after suffering system outages breaching customers’ data and affecting their access to accounts. Beyond these high profile cases, the true scale of the problem is evidenced by a report from Which? Money revealing that,between 1 April and 31 December 2018, there were 302 reports of IT systems failure affecting customer transactions – equivalent to an incident each day. Which? Money said that six of the major banks had suffered at least one incident apiece every two weeks.

Banks are,therefore,under increasing from politicians and regulators to improve their response to IT problems. In November last year the Financial Conduct Authority said it was “deeply concerned” after finding that technology outages had more than doubled over the preceding 12 months, while the Treasury Select Committee launched an inquiry into the issue. The Bank of England has also threatened banks with higher capital charges if they do not do enough to deal with technical problems.

There is a common misconception that IT outages are an unavoidable part of business operations; however,a large percentage of all downtime is not related to a failure in the technology itself but to how that technology is being used, configured and administered. The failure is usually down to a combination of a lack of training and planning.

So how can financial organisations minimise the risk of IT failure causing them to become the next unwanted headline?

Prevention is key

The best way to avoid losing revenue, reputation and customers is to prevent outages, especially the type of routine failures that can’t be blamed on a major disaster.Adopting best practice processes- such as running regular threat and vulnerability assessments, conducting configuration reviews and including operation process validation checkpoints- can significantly reduce your chances of suffering from a systems failure.

 Test, test and test again

Testing of different systems requires time and resources that can sometimes be difficult to justify. However, it’s important to remember that thorough, targeted real-life testing can reveal incompatibilities, glitches and capacity issues unforeseen at planning stages.  It was reported that one of the key causes of the Lloyds Banking Group outage which left customers unable to access their online banking services was the result of various systems not being as thoroughly tested as they should have been when accounts were migrated to the Group’s new core banking platform. 

Employee engagement and training

According to report by the Ponemon Institute, human error is the second most common cause for system failure – accounting for 22% of all incidents.Employees must be regularly trained on how to avoid an outage as well as how to mitigate the damage and impact should one occur.  Within financial organisations staff will be using a myriad of complex systems and technologies and it’s important to remember these technologies are only ever as good as the people using them. Clear, precise and regular usage guidance is imperative to minimise the chances of human error.

Always vigilant

Vigilance should be an essential part of any financial organisation’s IT strategy.Organisations should be working with an IT managed service provider to ensure that they are always following up to date best practice guidelines and pro-actively questioning their IT set-up and the associated risks. 

Have a well-rehearsed recovery plan in place

Although an IT outage is sometimes unavoidable, prolonged downtime does not have to be. Having a well-rehearsed business continuity plan in place can help to mitigate the impact of any system failures.

Any business continuity plan needs an executive owner/sponsor who has the experience and authority to get things done in a timely and processed manner.  All action plans should be regularly reviewed at board level and shared with all stakeholders across the organisation so that all the risks and organisational implications are planned for to avoid its implementation being hampered by budget or knowledge constraints.

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Entersekt provides clarity on Secure Remote Commerce authentication techniques for financial institutions

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Entersekt provides clarity on Secure Remote Commerce authentication techniques for financial institutions 2

New whitepaper from Mercator available: Revisiting Authentication in the Age of SRC and EMV 3-D Secure

Is it time for a new authentication strategy in light of international mandates for Secure Remote Commerce (SRC) and EMV 3-D Secure? This is the question posed to financial institutions (FIs) in a new Mercator Advisory Group whitepaper entitled Revisiting Authentication in the Age of SRC and EMV 3-D Secure.

The paper, licensed by Entersekt for public distribution, delves into the role SRC and EMV 3-D Secure will play in the European Union’s Strong Customer Authentication (SCA) requirements under the revised Payment Services Directive (PSD2). It finds that now would be the ideal time for FIs to rethink customer authentication strategies, particularly with the deadline for full SCA compliance approaching on the 1st of January 2021.

“Consumers face an increasingly complex authentication landscape, which can vary greatly depending on the communication channels they use,” said Frans Labuschagne, UK&I country manager at Entersekt. “Multiple authentication techniques create unwanted friction and uncertainty. This paper gives actionable advice to FIs that need to keep security top of mind while also providing a good user experience.”

All card issuers competing for top of wallet will find useful insights in this whitepaper, which states that, “Since it is well recognised that convenience is critical to consumer adoption, it is time for financial institutions to rein in the multiplicity of authentication methods they use to identify account holders and even employees.”

Some of the key findings include:

  • The lack of an integrated solution results in an inconsistent user interface.
  • Inconsistency not only detracts from a customer’s experience but is likely to disrupt any cross-channel implementation plans an organisation might have.
  • A customer who is presented with the same authentication technique for every interaction becomes more familiar with that technique.
  • The authentication technique should be implemented on a smartphone, which 89% of UK residents between 16 and 75 already have.
  • Consumers increasingly trust smartphone-based biometrics and are growing accustomed to using smart speakers for a range of use cases.

 

To download the whitepaper in full, please visit: https://www.entersekt.com/resources/white-papers/revisiting-authentication-src-3ds

 

This is a Sponsored Feature

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Using AI to identify public sector fraud

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When it comes to audits in the public sector, both accountability and transparency are essential. Not only is the public sector under increasing scrutiny to provide assurance that finances are being managed appropriately, but it is also vital to be able to give early warnings of financial pressures or failures. Right now, given the huge value of funds flowing from the public purse into the hands of individuals and companies due to COVID measures, renewed focus on audit is essential to ensure that these funds are used for the purposes intended by parliament.

As Rachel Kirkham, former Head of Data Analytics Research at the UK National Audit Office and now Director of AI Solutions at MindBridge, discusses, introducing AI to identify and rectify potential problems before they become an issue is a key way for public sector organisations and bodies to ensure public funds are being administered efficiently, effectively and economically.

Crime Wave

The National Crime Agency has warned repeatedly that criminals are seeking to capitalise on the Covid crisis and the latest warnings suggest that coronavirus-related fraud could end up costing the taxpayer £4bn. From the rise in company registrations associated with Bounce Back loan fraud, to job retention scheme (furlough) misuse, what plans are in place for government departments to identify the scale of fraud and error and then recoup lost funds?

There is no doubt that the speed with which these schemes were deployed, when the public sector was also dealing with a fundamental shift in service delivery, created both opportunities for fraud and risk of systematic error. But six months on, while the pandemic is still creating economic challenges, the peak of the financial crisis has passed. Ongoing financial support for businesses and individuals remains important and it is now essential to learn lessons in order to both target fraudulent activity and, critically, minimise the potential loss of public funds in the future.

Timing is everything. Government has an opportunity to review the last 6 months’ performance and strengthen internal controls to ensure that further use of public funds is appropriate. Technology should play a critical role in detecting and preventing future fraud and error.

Intelligence-Led Audit

If the public sector is to move beyond the current estimates of fraudulent activity and gain real insight into both the true level of fraud and the primary areas to address, an intelligent, data-led approach will be critical. The use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in public sector IT systems can be used to detect errors, fraud or mismanagement of funds, and enable the process changes required to prevent further issues.

HMRC is leading the way, using its extensive experience in identifying and tackling tax fraud to address the misuse of furlough – an approach that has led to many companies making use of the amnesty to repay erroneous claims. Other public sector bodies, especially smaller local authorities, are less likely to have the skills or resources in place to undertake the required analysis. If public money is to be both recouped and safeguarded in the future, it is likely that a central government initiative will be required.

Data resources are key; the government holds a vast amount of data that could be used, although this will require cross-government collaboration and co-operation. It is possible that the delivery speed of COVID-19 responses will have led to data collection gaps – an issue that will need rapid exploration and resolution. It should be a priority to take stock of existing data holdings to identify any gaps and, at the same time, use Machine Learning to identify anomalies that could reveal either fraud or systematic error.

Taking Control

In addition to identifying fraud, this insight can also feed back into claims processes providing public sector bodies with a chance to move away from retrospective review towards the use of predictive analytics to improve control. With an understanding of the key indicators of fraud, the application process can automatically raise an alert when a claim looks unusual, minimising the risk of such claims being processed.

While many public sector bodies may still feel overwhelmed, it is essential to take these steps quickly. Even at a time of crisis, good processes are important – failing to learn from the mistakes of the past few months will simply compound the problem and lead to greater misuse of public funds. The public sector, businesses, and individuals need to learn how to operate in this environment, and that requires the right people to spend time looking at the data, identifying problems and putting in place new controls. With an AI-led approach, these individuals will learn lessons about what worked and what didn’t work in this unprecedented release of public funds. And they will gain invaluable insight into the identification of fraud – something that will provide on-going benefit for all public sector bodies.

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Why dependency on SMS OTPs should not be the universal solution

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Why dependency on SMS OTPs should not be the universal solution 4

By Chris Stephens, Head of Banking Solutions at Callsign

In our day-to-day lives, SMS one-time passwords, also known as OTPs, have unintentionally become the default authentication factor when carrying out high risk and confidential transactions online. Banks, telcos, and businesses are opting for this method as SMS OTPs are relatively quick and simple to put in place. In our digital age, this solution works for the majority of users, who more often than not possess a mobile phone and are familiar with the user experience. As a result, companies are using them to securely authenticate both their customers and employees.

When looking into SMS OTPs, businesses should consider the bigger picture and how time- and cost-efficient solutions are as a whole by taking into account other key elements that might have been neglected in the past, such as hidden fees and security vulnerabilities. Apart from this approach, there are also other options better suited to different business needs – the European Authority (EBA) has already recognised other forms, such as employing the secure binding of a device to achieve possession and the use of behavioural biometrics as an inherence factor. For example, earlier this year Google officially began moving away from SMS OTP-based authentication. Whilst in the UK both the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and UK Finance have recommended banks ought to reduce their dependence on its use in the longer-term.  Whereas, in the past, financial institutions were choosing to use this solution because it enabled them to save time on becoming compliant with the PSD2 Strong Customer Authentication (SCA) regulation.

It is common knowledge that SMS OTPs are not without their flaws, and with the extended deadline for SCA for e-commerce less than a year away (September 2021) – is now the best time for the industry to look elsewhere for more intelligent approaches to authentication?

SMS as the go-to solution

Fraudsters are sophisticated criminals, who attack the weakest points in the system – they have observed that banks and businesses heavily rely on SMS OTPs for 2FA (two-factor authentication) transactions, which is why they continue to abuse and weaken existing systems and exploit these solutions for their own benefit. Fraudsters commonly practise SIM-swap – where they steal personal information about the victim and then contact the target’s mobile operator pretending that their phone has been lost or stolen. With lockdown rules constantly changing, not all customers are able to easily visit stores right now, therefore operators are dependent on mobile-authentication channels that are more susceptible to this type of manipulation to service their customers.

SIM-swap fraud can easily be done. As soon as the fraudster has duped the mobile operator, a number transfer is authorised and then activated on a new SIM card – it works by granting cybercriminals access to the victim’s number and consequently all one-time passwords and authentication codes that are sent to that number. In March 2020, Europol warned that SIM-swap scams are a growing problem across Europe, following an investigation that resulted in the arrest of 12 suspects associated with the theft of more than €3 million ($3.3 million).

However, consumers and businesses need to be aware that SIM-swap fraud is not the only method cybercriminals are deploying to intercept OTPs from their victims during the pandemic and beyond.

Spotting a scam

SIM-swap attacks are not the only method scammers are using, there is also a growing number of cases that take advantage of malware and remote access applications to steal SMS OTPs. They do this by socially engineering individuals to download remote access apps or hidden surveillance apps to grant access to the victim’s device, without coming into contact with it. The cybercriminals can, therefore, directly read their messages or secretly record all their texts and phone calls to another device. The unknowing victim’s personal messages, including OTPs, are tapped into by the fraudster using the same approach as SIM-swap attacks. However, this time they also have direct access to the target’s device.

Several different parties are involved in the delivery of OTPs and at each stage of the process there is an opportunity for fraudsters to capture  messages. There is also the potential mass compromise as a result of hidden vulnerabilities in the SS7 network and the attack surface to consider. With all these in mind, banks need to have a good overview of all data sub-processors to allow them to adopt the most suitable security controls, such as multi-factor authentication (MFA), audit logs, and dashboards.

Watch out for hidden costs

It comes as no surprise that intercepted OTPs result in fraud losses, which quickly increase as hidden fees go unnoticed over time. Beyond the upfront costs of SMS OTPs, such as cost per text, there are also several hidden costs that are difficult to budget for and avoid. They are typically the result of the domino effect of the aforementioned issues – forcing businesses into a reactive mode that is tricky to handle.

As an example, where drop-offs take place in an authentication journey, including when SMS texts are not received, financial institutions need to be ready to manage an influx in calls to their customer service helplines and the associated fees. Or else the customer may decide to use another card to make the payment, which is worse for the bank. This is due to the fact that customers are likely to abandon the use of a card when they are fed up with a customer journey that involves too much unnecessary friction. These abandonments lead to a decrease in interchange fees for banks and could even potentially reduce the customer base for merchants.

Evaluating the user experience

Whilst most consumers possess a mobile phone, SMS is not a reliable solution for everybody. For instance, SMS OTPs are not accessible to those living in remote or low-service locations, who may struggle to receive SMS alerts. This overall experience is also cumbersome as it takes roughly 30 seconds of transaction time for the text to be delivered, compared with the almost instantaneous transactions experienced by alternative authentication approaches, such as biometrics.

In this digital age, businesses are constantly adapting to accommodate different generations including Gen Z who are digital natives – so mobile use is only going to increase and, along with it, the volume of transactions taking place on these devices will also grow. This goes hand in hand with the ever-changing needs and expectations of customers as they look for hyper-personalised online experiences as the new norm. Yes, SMS OTPs are mobile-first, but they do still require the user to switch to another app to view the SMS so they can complete the transaction, which can be annoying for the customer as it interrupts the e-commerce user journey. After a friction-filled experience, it would be unsurprising if the user then decides to abandon the transaction. With this and other existing security implications in mind, the EBA recommends banks adopt other options.

Chris Stephens

Chris Stephens

Benefits of behavioural biometrics

Every person has their own unique behaviour and habits when swiping across the screen, which can be tracked through the analysis of the data signals captured from hardware sensors when the user engages with their device. These signals are crucial to designing user features such as finger movement, hand orientation, and wrist strength. Together, artificial intelligence and machine learning provide us with the capability to analyse this information to develop a personalised prototype of that user’s swipe behaviour, which only takes milliseconds to confirm whether the customer is who they say they are. This immediately allows the bank to seamlessly carry out appropriate security actions and stop fraudsters in their path before they can even begin using a target’s device.

Behavioural biometrics is ideal for positively identifying an individual and also effectively identifies bad actors. Including when cybercriminals use technologies, such as bots or remote access Trojan (RAT) software, to control transactional flows without the user being aware. This approach to biometrics works on both high- and low-end devices and helps to protect potential victims against both blind (where the fraudster has never observed how the user swipes their phone) and over-the-shoulder attacks (where the fraudster has been able to observe the victim’s swipe movements). Both forms of attack can be detected unique algorithms, with an accuracy rate of 98%; by layering in device intelligence and locational habits it is the most accurate and robust identification method currently available on the market. By preventing criminal access, even when the attacker has observed the user’s behaviour, it offers an added level of security to businesses and banks that other traditional methods, such as a PIN or password, cannot.

In order for organisations to maintain a competitive edge and successfully navigate through the pandemic, they will need to deliver hyper-personalised journeys to meet consumers’ expectations. They are increasingly looking to bank with or sign-up to services that offer a secure and bespoke service that meets their daily needs during and beyond the pandemic.

Therefore, a holistic approach to security empowers businesses to take back control of their fraud and authentication management. Unfortunately, single point solutions, like SMS OTPs, do not allow businesses to scale or provide enough flexibility to meet these requirements. By adopting a strategic, and intelligence-based, approach financial institutions and organisations will be able to upgrade security measures and enhance the user experience – whilst keeping IT spend low.

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