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Cryptojacking and its impact within the financial services sector

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Cryptojacking and its impact within the financial services sector

Contributed by Aamir Lakhani, Lead Researcher and Cybersecurity Expert, Fortinet

Today, the financial services sector finds itself in a unique position as it adapts both its technical and business processes to meet the demands of customers looking for extended capabilities, increased convenience and greater accessibility.

This shift is driving organizations to undergo significant digital transformation in order to better meet the needs of both consumers and employees and remain competitive in an evolving market. This transformation, however, also provides a clear window of opportunity for cybercriminals looking to exploit new and overlooked network vulnerabilities.

One of the most popular trends digital transformation aims to facilitate within the financial services sector is that of cryptocurrency. Though it has been around for years, the recent leap in crypto value has brought digital currency to the front of mainstream attention. Motivated by the skyrocketing value of various cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Ethereum and Ripple, and the anonymity many of them provide, cybercriminals have begun to shift their efforts in order to cash in on this opportunity.

To do this, cybercriminals have developed a form of cyberattack known as cryptojacking. This occurs when malware hijacks an organization’s network elements in order to repurpose them for mining cryptocurrency. This often involves leveraging unused CPU cycles on infected devices so that these mining activities are never noticed by its victims. If left unchecked, this often “below the radar” form of cyberattack can have serious consequences to financial service firms.

Cryptojacking Within the Financial Services Sector

As shown in our most recent Threat Landscape Report for Q1 of 2018, cybercriminals are expanding their attack capabilities, looking to do more than simply collect cryptocurrency through a ransomware attack. Cryptojacking often uses the same methodologies as ransomware attacks, with one main difference: the victims don’t need to know they have been attacked in order for cybercriminals to generate a lucrative income stream. As cybercriminals continue to expand their capabilities across the kill chain, we’ve seen a 30 percent increase in cryptojacking attacks since Q4.

Cryptojacking within the financial services sector can take many forms. Whether it’s maliciously injecting exploits into the browsers of computers, known as forced mining, distributing malware across servers and IoT devices, or even hijacking Wi-Fi routers, these infections are designed to leach CPU resources in order to generate cryptocurrency for the financial gain of cybercriminals. While the impact of such attacks once caused system crashes, poor network efficiency and a sharp drop in machine speed for both personnel and consumers, newer, more sophisticated versions of cryptojacking malware often use rate-limiting buffers to minimize their impact on end users, thereby reducing the chance of their being detected.

Unfortunately, the exploit capabilities of cryptojacking have begun to increase. Cybercriminals now have the capability to cryptojack cloud-based, enterprise-level applications, as seen in a recent attack earlier this year. This means that financial service firms leveraging these application management systems within their own websites and applications could potentially host cryptojacking malware that can quickly spread to large numbers of consumer devices.

The Impact of Cryptojacking

At its most basic level, cryptojacking only operates within browser windows and Java scripts, affecting only those specific machines and devices that are infected. However, if enough network elements are infected, they can have a serious impact on efficiency and business operations.

Delivery methods are also becoming more sophisticated. Some cybercriminals are now leveraging the EternalBlue exploit, which made headlines for its use in the large-scale WannaCry ransomware attacks, to instead deliver cryptojacking malware to unsuspecting businesses. Aptly titled WannaMine, this more malicious form of cryptojacking malware has the potential to render companies across industries inoperable for days or weeks at a time. This infection can also move laterally across a network, identifying and exploiting vulnerabilities in machines and devices not properly patched or secured.

For cybersecurity professionals within the financial services sector, this is big news. Typically, the goal of cryptojacking is parasitic in nature, meaning that cybercriminals don’t want to leverage enough CPU to merit unwanted attention to their operation. However, in an industry where market orders are placed in fractions of a second, any compromise in network efficiency can have dire consequences.

What’s more, we measured the persistence of botnet infections in Q1. Of the botnet infections we looked at, more than half were cleaned the same day of the infection, but about five percent still managed to linger within a network for more than a week, indicating that successful cryptojacking infections can remain within a network far after the attack was identified and countermeasures taken.

The impact of cryptojacking doesn’t stop within the firm’s network, either. Today’s consumers expect the digital services they use to run quickly and efficiently. Those using the services of a firm experiencing a cryptojacking infection will notice slower computer/device speeds when using their websites and applications. This has the potential to adversely impact brand value and the loyalty of customers using those infected services.

To properly address the threat of cryptojacking, financial service firms need to deploy security solutions within an integrated, automated cybersecurity system capable of monitoring networks at machine speed while being able to mitigate damage and efficiently patch vulnerabilities through integrated security device collaboration. As financial service organizations continue to expand their digital offerings and further facilitate digital transformation, such integrated solutions can help ensure an effective, modern security posture that adapts to any new threat vectors introduced to the network.

Final Thoughts 

The financial services sector is a lucrative target for cyberattacks. As firms and organizations continue to make the digital transformation necessary to facilitate growing consumer demand, the attack space subsequently widens, allowing cybercriminals to leach off of internal and consumer machines and devices to harvest cryptocurrency. Next-generation tools help assure cryptojacking malware can be successfully identified and mitigated.

About the author:

Aamir Lakhani is a Global Security Strategist and Lead Researcher for FortiGuard Labs. Aamir Lakhani formulates security strategy with more than fifteen years of cybersecurity experience, his goal to make a positive impact towards the global war on cyber-crime and information security. Lakhani provides thought leadership to industry and has presented research and strategy world-wide at premier security conferences. As a cybersecurity expert, his work has included meetings with leading political figures and key policy stakeholders who help define the future of cybersecurity. 

Finance

ISO 20022 migration: full speed ahead despite recent delays, says new Deutsche Bank paper

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ISO 20022 migration: full speed ahead despite recent delays, says new Deutsche Bank paper 1

Today, Deutsche Bank has released the third installment in its “Guide to ISO 20022 migration series, which offers a comprehensive update on the industry shift to the de facto global standard for financial messaging: ISO 20022. This paper comes at a critical time for the ISO 20022 migration, with a number of changes to existing timelines and strategies from SWIFT and the world’s major market infrastructures having been announced this year.

The paper explores the latest developments, including SWIFT’s year-long postponement of the migration in the correspondent banking space. The decision meets industry calls for a delay and also provides ample time to build the new central Transaction Management Platform (TMP) – a core feature of SWIFT’s new strategy that will allow the industry to move away from point-to-point messaging and towards central transaction processing.

It also details the wave of action that has been seen by market infrastructures around the world – with many, including the ECB, EBA CLEARING and the Bank of England, announcing revised migration approaches.

“Now more than ever, with shifting timelines and strained resources, it is vital that banks and corporates alike do not view the ISO 20022 migration as just another project that can be put on the back burner,” says Christian Westerhaus, Head of Cash Products, Cash Management, Deutsche Bank. “The delays in the correspondent banking space, and across several market infrastructures, should not be seen as an opportunity for banks to take their foot off the pedal. The journey to ISO 20022 is still moving ahead at speed – and internal projects need to reflect this.”

The Guide also highlights the implementation issues on the migration journey ahead – most notably surrounding interoperability between market infrastructures, usage guidelines and messaging formats. This is achieved through a series of deep dives, case studies, and points of attention drawn from Deutsche Bank’s internal analysis.

 “As this year has proved, nothing is set in stone, “says Paula Roels, Head of Market Infrastructure & Industry Initiatives, Deutsche Bank. “The ISO 20022 migration involves a lot of moving parts and keeping abreast of the latest developments is critical for banks and corporates alike. As the deadlines near, and the ISO 20022 story develops, this series of guides will continue to highlight key points for consideration over the coming years.”

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The Psychology Behind a Strong Security Culture in the Financial Sector

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The Psychology Behind a Strong Security Culture in the Financial Sector 2

By Javvad Malik, Security Awareness Advocate at KnowBe4

Banks and financial industries are quite literally where the money is, positioning them as prominent targets for cybercriminals worldwide. Unfortunately, regardless of investments made in the latest technologies, the Achilles heel of these institutions is their employees. Often times, a human blunder is found to be a contributing factor of a security breach, if not the direct source. Indeed, in the 2020 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report, miscellaneous errors were found vying closely with web application attacks for the top cause of breaches affecting the financial and insurance sector. A secretary may forward an email to the wrong recipient or a system administrator may misconfigure firewall settings. Perhaps, a user clicks on a malicious link. Whatever the case, the outcome is equally dire.

Having grown acutely aware of the role that people play in cybersecurity, business leaders are scrambling to establish a strong security culture within their own organisations. In fact, for many leaders across the globe, realising a strong security culture is of increasing importance, not solely for fear of a breach, but as fundamental to the overall success of their organisations – be it to create customer trust or enhance brand value. Yet, the term lacks a universal definition, and its interpretation varies depending on the individual. In one survey of 1,161 IT decision makers, 758 unique definitions were offered, falling into five distinct categories. While all important, these categories taken apart only feature one aspect of the wider notion of security culture.

With an incomplete understanding of the term, many organisations find themselves inadvertently overconfident in their actual capabilities to fend off cyberthreats. This speaks to the importance of building a single, clear and common definition from which organisations can learn from one another, benchmark their standing and construct a comprehensive security programme.

Defining Security Culture: The Seven Dimensions

In an effort to measure security culture through an objective, scientific method, the term can be broken down into seven key dimensions:

  • Attitudes: Formed over time and through experiences, attitudes are learned opinions reflecting the preferences an individual has in favour or against security protocols and issues.
  • Behaviours: The physical actions and decisions that employees make which impact the security of an organisation.
  • Cognition: The understanding, knowledge and awareness of security threats and issues.
  • Communication: Channels adopted to share relevant security-related information in a timely manner, while encouraging and supporting employees as they tackle security issues.
  • Compliance: Written security policies and the extent that employees adhere to them.
  • Norms: Unwritten rules of conduct in an organisation.
  • Responsibilities: The extent to which employees recognise their role in sustaining or endangering their company’s security.

All of these dimensions are inextricably interlinked; should one falter so too would the others.

The Bearing of Banks and Financial Institutions

Collecting data from over 120,000 employees in 1,107 organisations across 24 countries, KnowBe4’s ‘Security Culture Report 2020’ found that the banking and financial sectors were among the best performers on the security culture front, with a score of 76 out of a 100. This comes as no surprise seeing as they manage highly confidential data and have thus adopted a long tradition of risk management as well as extensive regulatory oversight.

Indeed, the security culture posture is reflected in the sector’s well-oiled communication channels. As cyberthreats constantly and rapidly evolve, it is crucial that effective communication processes are implemented. This allows employees to receive accurate and relevant information with ease; having an impact on the organisation’s ability to prevent as well as respond to a security breach. In IBM’s 2020 Cost of a Data Breach study, the average reported response time to detect a data breach is 207 days with an additional 73 days to resolve the situation. This is in comparison to the financial industry’s 177 and 56 days.

Moreover, with better communication follows better attitude – both banking and financial services scored 80 and 79 in this department, respectively. Good communication is integral to facilitating collaboration between departments and offering a reminder that security is not achieved solely within the IT department; rather, it is a team effort. It is also a means of boosting morale and inspiring greater employee engagement. As earlier mentioned, attitudes are evaluations, or learned opinions. Therefore, by keeping employees informed as well as motivated, they are more likely to view security best practices favourably, adopting them voluntarily.

Predictably, the industry ticks the box on compliance as well. The hefty fines issued by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) in the past year alone, including Capital One’s $80 million penalty, probably play a part in keeping financial institutions on their toes.

Nevertheless, there continues to be room for improvement. As it stands, the overall score of 76 is within the ‘moderate’ classification, falling a long way short of the desired 90-100 range. So, what needs fixing?

Towards Achieving Excellence

There is often the misconception that banks and financial institutions are well-versed in security-related information due to their extensive exposure to the cyber domain. However, as the cognition score demonstrates, this is not the case – dawdling in the low 70s. This illustrates an urgent need for improved security awareness programmes within the sector. More importantly, employees should be trained to understand how this knowledge is applied. This can be achieved through practical exercises such as simulated phishing, for example. In addition, training should be tailored to the learning styles as well as the needs of each individual. In other words, a bank clerk would need a completely different curriculum to IT staff working on the backend of servers.

By building on cognition, financial institutions can instigate a sense of responsibility among employees as they begin to recognise the impact that their behaviour might have on the company. In cybersecurity, success is achieved when breaches are avoided. In a way, this negative result removes the incentive that typically keeps employees engaged with an outcome. Training methods need to take this into consideration.

Then there are norms and behaviours, found to have strong correlations with one another. Norms are the compass from which individuals refer to when making decisions and negotiating everyday activities. The key is recognising that norms have two facets, one social and the other personal. The former is informed by social interactions, while the latter is grounded in the individual’s values. For instance, an accountant may connect to the VPN when working outside of the office to avoid disciplinary measures, as opposed to believing it is the right thing to do. Organisations should aim to internalise norms to generate consistent adherence to best practices irrespective of any immediate external pressures. When these norms improve, behavioural changes will reform in tandem.

Building a robust security culture is no easy task. However, the unrelenting efforts of cybercriminals to infiltrate our systems obliges us to press on. While financial institutions are leading the way for other industries, much still needs to be done. Fortunately, every step counts -every improvement made in one dimension has a domino effect in others.

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Has lockdown marked the end of cash as we know it?

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Has lockdown marked the end of cash as we know it? 3

By James Booth, VP of Payment Partnerships EMEA, PPRO

Since the start of the pandemic, businesses around the world have drastically changed their operations to protect employees and customers. One significant shift has been the discouragement of the use of cash in favour of digital and contactless payment methods. On the surface, moving away from cash seems like the safe, obvious thing to do to curb the spread of the virus. But, the idea of being propelled towards an innovative, digital-first, cashless society is also compelling.

Has cashless gone viral?

Recent months have forced the world online, leading to a surge in e-commerce with UK online sales seeing a rise of 168% in May and steady growth ever since. In fact, PPRO’s transaction engine, has seen online purchases across the globe increase dramatically in 2020: purchases of women’s clothing are up 311%, food and beverage by 285%, and healthcare and cosmetics by 160%.

Alongside a shift to online shopping, a recent report revealed 7.4 million in the UK are now living an almost cashless life – claiming changing payment habits has left Britons better prepared for life in lockdown. In fact, according to recent research from PPRO, 45% of UK consumers think cash will be a thing of the past in just five years. And this UK figure reflects a global trend. For example, 46% of Americans have turned to cashless payments in the wake of COVID-19. And in Italy, the volume of cashless transactions has skyrocketed by more than 80%.

More choice than ever before

Whilst the pandemic and restrictions surrounding cash have certainly accelerated the UK towards a cashless society, the proliferation of local payment methods (LPMs) in the UK, such as PayPal, Klarna and digital wallets, have also been a key driver. Today, 31% of UK consumers report they are confident using mobile wallets, such as Apple Pay. Those in Generation Z are particularly keen, with 68% expressing confidence using them[1].

As LPM usage continues to accelerate, the use of credit and debit cards are likely to decline in the coming years. Whilst older generations show an affinity with plastic, younger consumers feel less secure around its usage. 96% of Baby Boomers and Generation X confirmed they feel confident using credit/debit cards, compared to just 75% of Generation Z[2].

Does social distancing mean financial exclusion?

As we hurtle into a digital age, leaving cash in the rearview, there are ramifications of going completely cashless to consider. We must take into consideration how removing cash could disenfranchise over a quarter of our society; 26% of the global population doesn’t have a traditional bank account. Across Latin America, 38% of shoppers are unbanked, and nearly 1 in 5 online transactions are completed with cash. While in Africa and the Middle East, only 50% of consumers are banked in the traditional sense, and 12% have access to a credit card. Even here in the UK, approximately 1.3 million UK adults are classed as unbanked, exposing the large number of consumers affected by any ban on cash.

Even when shopping online – many consumers rely on cash-based payments. At the checkout page, consumers are provided with a barcode for their order. They take this barcode (either printed or on their mobile device) to a local convenience store or bank and pay in cash. At that point, the goods are shipped.

There are also older generations to consider. Following the closure of one in eight banks and cashpoints during Coronavirus, the government faced calls to act swiftly to protect access to cash, as pensioners struggled to access their savings. Despite the direction society is headed, there are a significant number of older people that still rely on cash – they have grown up using it. With an estimated two million people in the UK relying on cash for day to day spending, it is important that it does not disappear in its entirety.

Supporting the transition away from cash

Cashless protocols not only restrict access to goods and services for consumers but also limit revenue opportunity for merchants. While 2020 has provided the global economy with one great reason to reduce the acceptance of cash, the payments industry has billions of reasons to offer multiple options that cater to the needs of every kind of shopper around the world.

Whilst it seems younger generations are driving LPM adoption, it is important that older generations aren’t forgotten. If online shops fail to offer a variety of preferred payment methods, consumers will not hesitate to shop elsewhere. With 44% of consumers reporting they would stop a purchase online if their favourite payment method wasn’t available – this is something merchants need to address to attract and retain loyal customers.

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