By Rick Vanover, Senior Director, Product Strategy, Veeam
The COVID-19 pandemic has shifted the spotlight back on that pesky security issue that organisations have struggled with for years. Workers are connecting to corporate networks from more devices than ever before – but moves to protect, manage and back up the sensitive information in those networks aren’t keeping pace.
The problem’s getting worse. Studies show the number of connections spiked suddenly during the pandemic, as workers handle more mission-critical tasks from remote locations. Rogue, shadow IT continues to intensify year after year. Financial services (FS) organisations are particularly concerned, keen to offer employees the flexibility and better work-life balance remote working can provide, but at the same time mindful of being able to comply with audit and compliance requirements. IT departments, already stretched thin by pandemic-related layoffs, are scrambling to do more with less at a time when threats are getting more serious.
That’s not all. Workers are not only hooking up more laptops, tablets and phones to give themselves more work flexibility – they’re getting sloppier about the way they manage the connections under their control. They’re replacing devices more quickly than they used to, upgrading phones every year or two. But consumers don’t always wipe their old phones clean when they give them away, sell them or trash them. IT might not always be keeping track as they perhaps did when everyone was in the office every day. The data from that confidential presentation, sensitive information from a financial deal or client proposal doesn’t go away by itself.
Hackers are watching this trend closely – and capitalising on it. Rather than storm a corporate network with a “Game of Thrones”-style, all-out attack, hackers prefer to find an unguarded endpoint, slip into a network, poke around and pilfer assets quietly before setting off any alarms.
In the context of financial services, the consequences could be even bigger. It’s an industry built on trust, and clients count on their investments and needs being met in a discrete, professional way. A data breach, leak or other insider activity is the last thing a financial services brand needs.
It’s time for organisations, particularly in the financial services sector, and workers themselves to step up. They need to protect data and ensure it’ll be there for future use by backing it up. But it can’t stop there, because many have been doing that for years. Backups are just the start – part of a larger strategy that includes things like two-factor authentication and more dedicated use of VPNs. As they say, “If you connect it, protect it.” Here are four key cybersecurity strategies financial services organisations and their employees can deploy to protect and manage the growing issues imposed by the era of ultraconnectedness.
Strengthen your remote access strategy
This is “job one” for IT departments – especially with remote work promising to play a bigger role in the future. Banks and financial organisations have typically been more office-focused than other sectors, but many of the changes we’ve seen over the past year to working patterns will, for some, become permanent. IT needs to be able to cope. Equipping corporate networks with VPNs for sensitive data is a good start, and should be seen as the absolute bare minimum. Just as important is the follow-through. Sophisticated role-based management tools can enable employees to work productively while also blocking them from accessing information outside of their assigned areas or sharing strategic documents. Train employees in the do’s and don’ts of accessing information remotely, and regularly review your strategy to ensure it’s meeting your corporate needs.
Manage devices ‘from cradle to grave’
Too much sensitive information is sitting on devices waiting to be had. For FS organisations, this is a compliance nightmare, not to mention the impact on things like client relations. IT departments need to take the lead on any corporate-issued phones and laptops – equipping them with security features up front and doing thorough wipe-downs before issuing to a new user. This goes for loaner devices, as well. Workers connecting to network information need to do their part, too. Kill old corporate emails from home devices, and before selling or destroying models make sure to purge any materials. Keeping accurate logs of what devices have been loaned, and their status, is invaluable.
Use encryption and Two-Factor Authentication
Security breaches are all too common – and most are preventable. Basic steps like encrypting sensitive documents can protect FS organisations and their clients from disaster scenarios where client data, details on trades or deals, or a highly classified report inadvertently falls into the wrong hands. Passwords provide a moderate level of protection – and, if they’re updated regularly and managed properly, they can do the job. But they’re really a basic first line of defence. If you’re accessing important information that could compromise the company in any way, equipping all private devices with two-factor authentication is a better option.
Doubling down on diligence
Phishing forays aren’t new, but they’re still dangerous. Staff in FS organisations may receive requests to transfer funds or share highly sensitive data many times a day, as part of their usual roles. But they should continue to be watchful of threat actors taking advantage. IT departments can circulate refresher notes and conduct periodic trainings reminding people to exercise basic cautions like don’t enter credentials online, don’t click on documents from unknown sources and when in doubt contact IT. Keep the time-tested slogan in mind: “Trust but verify.” You don’t want to find out the hard way that a communication isn’t what it appears to be, when what seemed like a legitimate request to transfer funds or provide access, was far from it.
Dollar edges lower as investors favor higher-risk currencies
By Stephen Culp
NEW YORK (Reuters) – The dollar lost ground on Friday as market participants favored currencies associated with risk-on sentiment over the safe-haven greenback.
Risk appetite was stoked by better-than-expected economic data and expectations that U.S. President Joe Biden’s proposed $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package will come to fruition.
“The dollar’s down against other currencies but not by a whole lot,” said Oliver Pursche, president of Bronson Meadows Capital Management in Fairfield, Connecticut. “I expect the dollar to be where it is now at the end of the year, and the main reason for that is while I see some signs of improvement in the economy, monetary policy is going to stay where it is.”
“I don’t think the dollar is underpriced or overpriced,” Pursche added.
For the week, the dollar slid about 0.2% against a basket of world currencies, the euro was essentially flat, and the yen lost more than 0.5%. But the British pound advanced more than 1.1% against the dollar, its best week since mid-December.
Bitcoin continues soar to record highs. The world’s largest cryptocurrency was last up 6.6% at $54,961.67, hitting $1 trillion in market capitalization.
Its smaller rival, ethereum, was last up 0.7% at $1,953.28.
The digital currencies have gained about 89% and 1,420%, respectively, year to date, leading some analysts to warn of a speculative bubble.
“One concern I’ve always had (about cryptocurrencies) is how susceptible they are to manipulation,” Pursche said. “But they’re going to continue to gain legitimacy.”
“While it’s great that Tesla made an investment in bitcoin, I’m more intrigued by Blackrock and other major investment firms taking a hard look at cryptocurrencies as a viable investment.”
The Australian dollar, which is closely linked to commodity prices and the outlook for global growth, was last up 1.21% at $0.7863, touching its highest since March 2018.
The New Zealand dollar also gained, closing in on a more than two-year high, and the Canadian dollar advanced as well.
Sterling, which often benefits from increased risk appetite, rose to an almost three-year high amid Britain’s aggressive vaccination program. It had last gained 0.27% to $1.40.
The euro showed little reaction to a slowdown in factory activity indicated by purchasing manager index data, rising 0.21% to $1.2116.
The yen, gained ground against the dollar and was last at 105.495, creeping above its 200-day moving average for the first time in three days.
(Reporting by Stephen Culp, additonal reporting by Tommy Wilkes; editing by Jonathan Oatis)
Shares rise as cyclical stocks provide support; yields climb
By Saqib Iqbal Ahmed
NEW YORK (Reuters) – A gauge of global equity markets snapped a 3-day losing streak to edge higher on Friday, as the recent selling pressure on high-flying big technology-related stocks eased even as investors showed a preference for economically sensitive cyclical sectors.
Oil prices fell from recent highs as Texas energy companies began preparations to restart oil and gas fields shuttered by freezing weather, while the U.S. Treasury yields extended their recent rise.
The MSCI’s global stock index was up 0.47% at 681.88, after losing ground for three consecutive sessions.
On Wall Street, stocks steadied as cyclical sectors edged higher while tech names made modest advances after concerns about elevated valuations led to some selling in recent sessions.
“What we saw (this week) represents a market that is tired and may not do very much. So we are headed for some sort of a pullback, but I don’t think we’re there just yet,” said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Spartan Capital Securities in New York.
“Investors are not really pulling out of the market, but they are becoming more cautious. It already has factored in another good positive earnings season.”
The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 119.97 points, or 0.38%, to 31,613.31, the S&P 500 gained 12.93 points, or 0.33%, to 3,926.9 and the Nasdaq Composite added 92.58 points, or 0.67%, to 13,957.93.
The S&P 500 technology and communication services sectors, housing high-value growth stocks, were among the smallest gainers in early trading, while financials, industrials, energy and materials rose more than 1%.
European shares edged higher on Friday as an upbeat earnings report from Hermes boosted confidence in a broader economic recovery. The pan-European STOXX 600 index was 0.64% higher.
U.S. Treasury yields on the longer end of the curve rose to new one-year highs on Friday as improved risk appetite boosted Wall Street, while the yield on 30-year inflation-protected securities (TIPS) turned positive for the first time since June.
Core bond yields have pushed higher globally, led by the so-called reflation trade, where investors wager on a pick-up in growth and inflation. Growing momentum for coronavirus vaccine programs and hopes of massive fiscal spending under U.S. President Joe Biden have spurred reflation trades.
The benchmark 10-year yield was last up 5.1 basis points at 1.338%, its highest level since Feb. 26, 2020.
Oil prices retreated from recent highs for a second day on Friday as Texas energy companies began preparations to restart oil and gas fields shuttered by freezing weather.
Unusually cold weather in Texas and the Plains states curtailed up to 4 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil production and 21 billion cubic feet of natural gas, analysts estimated.
Brent crude futures were down 28 cents, or 0.44%, at $63.65 a barrel, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures fell 66 cents, or 1.09%, to $59.86.
Copper jumped to its highest in more than nine years on Friday and towards a third straight weekly gain as tight supplies and bullish sentiment towards base metals continued after the Chinese New Year.
Spot gold XAU= was down 0.58% at $1,785.71 an ounce.
The dollar lost ground on Friday, extending Thursday’s decline as improved risk appetite sapped demand for the safe-haven currency and drew buyers to riskier, higher-yielding currencies. The dollar index was off 0.295%.
Bitcoin hit yet another record high on Friday, hitting a market capitalization of $1 trillion, blithely shrugging off analyst warnings that it is an “economic side show” and a poor hedge against a fall in stock prices.
(Reporting by Saqib Iqbal Ahmed; Editing by Nick Zieminski)
Oil falls after surging past $65 on Texas freeze
By Stephanie Kelly
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Oil prices fell on Thursday despite a sharp drop in U.S. crude inventories, as market participants took profits following days of buying spurred by a cold snap in the largest U.S. energy-producing state.
Brent crude fell 41 cents, or 0.6%, to settle at $63.93 a barrel. During the session it rose as high as $65.52, its highest since January 2020.
U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures fell 62 cents, or 1%, to settle at $60.52 a barrel, after earlier reaching $62.26, the highest since January 2020.
Brent had gained for four straight sessions before Thursday, while WTI had risen for three.
“The market probably got a little bit ahead of itself,” said Phil Flynn, a senior analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago. “But make no mistake, this selloff in oil doesn’t solve the problems. The problems are going to persist.”
Though some Texas households had power restored on Thursday, the state entered its sixth day of a cold freeze. It has grappled with refining outages and oil and gas shut-ins that rippled beyond its border into Mexico.
The weather has shut in about one-fifth of the nation’s refining capacity and closed oil and natural gas production across the state.
“The temporary outage will help to accelerate U.S. oil inventories down towards the five-year average quicker than expected,” SEB chief commodities analyst Bjarne Schieldrop said.
Prices dropped despite a decrease in U.S. oil inventories. Crude stockpiles fell by 7.3 million barrels in the week to Feb. 12, the Energy Information Administration said on Thursday, compared with analysts’ expectations for an decrease of 2.4 million barrels.
Crude exports rose to 3.9 million barrels per day, the highest since March, EIA said.
“The big nugget was the big jump in exports of crude oil,” said John Kilduff, partner at Again Capital in New York. “We’ll have to see what happens with that next week weather in Texas, but I have been looking for a pickup there for a while.”
Oil’s rally in recent months has also been supported by a tightening of global supplies, due largely to production cuts from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allied producers in the OPEC+ grouping, which includes Russia.
OPEC+ sources told Reuters the group’s producers are likely to ease curbs on supply after April given the recovery in prices.
(Additional reporting by Yuka Obayashi in Tokyo; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise, Steve Orlofsky, David Gregorio and Jonathan Oatis)
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