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How automation safeguards financial services from cyberthreats



How automation safeguards financial services from cyberthreats

By Nick Lowe, VP EMEA at Tufin

A growing problem

It is no secret that the financial services industry is one of the most targeted by cybercriminals across the globe, and the repercussions of a breach are devastating. From declining customer loyalty and plummeting stock values, to company and professional reputation – the consequences of an effective attack are both wide-ranging and destabilising. Equifax recently signed a settlement related to the 2017 data breach that resulted in the theft of information of over 146 million people. The company will reportedly pay at least $575 million, and potentially up to $700 million in damages. Staying secure is imperative for institutions to be successful.

While banks have been physically robbed for more than two centuries, technological advancements in the last 20 years have made it possible for thieves to steal funds from the comfort of their own living rooms. Hackers and fraudsters are keen to make a financial killing and are constantly trying to find new ways to breach financial services’ security systems. In April 2018 alone, seven UK banks were threatened by a single coordinated attack and institutions often face specific, targeted assaults by coordinated group efforts called Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs).

Keeping a financial service secure when the internal systems are unlikely to change is easier to ensure effective preparation, but also unlikely. The business will require making essential access changes which can create a new, potentially vulnerable, access path. When it comes to making changes to improve internal processes and enable business agility, it is important those managing such initiatives are careful not to provide unnecessary access that opens a path of attack for hackers to compromise the organisation. You can almost guarantee that if you are the one responsible for negligence of a breach, it will be your job on the line.

So, how can financial organizations’ IT security teams empower the business by delivering critical connectivity without damaging consequences? Below are the problems financial services face when managing security policies and how automation provides the answer.

Centralising security policy

Many financial services have complex security policies that are not documented or referenceable, and therefore cannot be integrated throughout a process. When essential application connectivity needs to be supported, security configurations often need to be changed across each vendor device or platform and may conflict with organizational policies.

For example, consider that DevOps and IT security teams have differing priorities regarding how work should be carried out. While IT security professionals are characterised as meticulous and risk-averse, ensuring their organisation’s network access change process is compliant and secure, the typical application developer operates outside this security review process and simply ensures connectivity between application resources. As such, there are two common scenarios that organizations may encounter. The first is that IT security is often seen as an obstacle – they are managing a large volume of requests and treat each request as equal unless escalated by the business or due to a security incident. While security is ensured, it often comes at the expense of timeliness. The second possible scenario is that DevOps will bypass security, so connectivity is ensured quickly, but without any sort of security check or ability to review. Both scenarios incur unacceptable sacrifices to the business. So how do financial organizations achieve both security and agility?

Automation removes this headache from the equation and instead lets both teams become more efficient in meeting their respective goals. Automating risk assessments of change requests saves the security team from reviewing every request, and automated design and implementation eliminates misconfigurations and mistakes. And once policy is centralised, change management is consistent and auditable across your organization. In cases where automated risk assessment is integrated into the application CI/CD pipeline, companies can develop and secure in parallel speed.

Four steps to protection

In order to keep data and finances secure, businesses need to follow these steps to eliminate or limit the extent of breaches. This is done through:

  • Define the security policy baseline of the organization
  • Segment the network to align to the security policy
  • Develop an automated change management process with built-in risk assessment
  • Manage the designation and recertification of access exceptions

Attacks typically fall between, or at, two extremes. APTs are often silent intruders that will dwell in your network for a prolonged period of time to carefully navigate the network without alerting security of their presence. This is often done by using existing access to navigate across different network segments to gain access to the desired assets, or through the compromise of credentials. The least patient of attacks are fully automated – trick an employee or third party with access to the network to install malware and automate the detection of other vulnerable hosts and exploit them through available access. In either scenario, through proper planning and effective network segmentation, businesses can maintain a network that limits access and prevents hackers from easily completing their objective. Additionally, this requires the compromise of multiple network segments before an attack is successful, providing more time for incident detection.

To realize the above security benefits, organisations need to define a centralised security policy in order to identify violations, and to ensure changes made across the heterogeneous and hybrid network don’t introduce new risk. A centralised and integrated security policy is foundational to the network environment that effectively leverages automation and orchestration – to save time and resources, improve compliance, and increase security.

Protection necessitates automation

While many organisations are often caught in limbo between staying secure or prioritising connectivity, automation helps to maximize both to ensure their networks, processes, employees, and customer data are secure while keeping pace with internal and external business initiatives. Centralizing security policy management across physical, SDDCs and hybrid cloud platforms gives CISOs control by tracking all security and network changes. They define and enforce their security policy across their different vendors and platforms, through a single pane of glass to do what IT security is meant to do – secure the business without slowing it down.


‘Spooky’ AI tool brings dead relatives’ photos to life



'Spooky' AI tool brings dead relatives' photos to life 1

By Umberto Bacchi

(Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Like the animated paintings that adorn the walls of Harry Potter’s school, a new online tool promises to bring portraits of dead relatives to life, stirring debate about the use of technology to impersonate people.

Genealogy company MyHeritage launched its “Deep Nostalgia” feature earlier this week, allowing users to turn stills into short videos showing the person in the photograph smiling, winking and nodding.

“Seeing our beloved ancestors’ faces come to life … lets us imagine how they might have been in reality, and provides a profound new way of connecting to our family history,” MyHeritage founder Gilad Japhet said in a statement.

Developed with Israeli computer vision firm D-ID, Deep Nostalgia uses deep learning algorithms to animate images with facial expressions that were based on those of MyHeritage employees.

Some of the company’s users took to Twitter on Friday to share the animated images of their deceased relatives, as well as moving depictions of historical figures, including Albert Einstein and Ancient Egypt’s lost Queen Nefertiti.

“Takes my breath away. This is my grandfather who died when I was eight. @MyHeritage brought him back to life. Absolutely crazy,” wrote Twitter user Jenny Hawran.

While most expressed amazement, others described the feature as “spooky” and said it raised ethical questions. “The photos are enough. The dead have no say in this,” tweeted user Erica Cervini.

From chatbots to virtual reality, the tool is the latest innovation seeking to bring the dead to life through technology.

Last year U.S. rapper Kanye West famously gifted his wife Kim Kardashian a hologram of her late father congratulating her on her birthday and on marrying “the most, most, most, most, most genius man in the whole world”.


The trend has opened up all sorts of ethical and legal questions, particularly around consent and the opportunity to blur reality by recreating a virtual doppelganger of the living.

Elaine Kasket a psychology professor at the University of Wolverhampton in Britain who authored a book on the “digital afterlife”, said that while Deep Nostalgia was not necessarily “problematic”, it sat “at the top of a slippery slope”.

“When people start overwriting history or sort of animating the past … You wonder where that ends up,” she said.

MyHeritage acknowledges on its website that the technology can be “a bit uncanny” and its use “controversial”, but said steps have been taken to prevent abuses.

“The Deep Nostalgia feature includes hard-coded animations that are intentionally without any speech and therefore cannot be used to fake any content or deliver any message,” MyHeritage public relations director Rafi Mendelsohn said in a statement.

Yet, images alone can convey meaning, said Faheem Hussain, a clinical assistant professor at Arizona State University’s School for the Future of Innovation in Society.

“Imagine somebody took a picture of the Last Supper and Judas is now winking at Mary Magdalene – what kind of implications that can have,” Hussain told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

Similarly, Artificial Intelligence (AI) animations could be use to make someone appear as though they were doing things they might not be happy about, such as rolling their eyes or smiling at a funeral, he added.

Mendelsohn of MyHeritage said using photos of a living person without their consent was a breach of the company’s terms and conditions, adding that videos were clearly marked with AI symbols to differentiate them from authentic recordings.

“It is our ethical responsibility to mark such synthetic videos clearly and differentiate them from real videos,” he said.

(Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi in Milan; Editing by Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit


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Does your institution have operational resilience? Testing cyber resilience may be a good way to find out




By Callum Roxan, Head of Threat Intelligence, F-Secure

If ever 2020 had a lesson, it was that no organization can possibly prepare for every conceivable outcome. Yet building one particular skill will make any crisis easier to handle: operational resilience.

Many financial institutions have already devoted resources to building operational resilience. Unfortunately, this often takes what Miles Celic, Chief Executive Officer of TheCityUK, calls a “near death” experience for this conversion to occur. “Recent years have seen a number of cases of loss of reputation, reduced enterprise value and senior executive casualties from operational incidents that have been badly handled,” he wrote.

But it need not take a disaster to learn this vital lesson.

“Operational resilience means not only planning around specific, identified risks,” Charlotte Gerken, the executive director of the Bank of England, said in a 2017 speech on operational resilience. “We want firms to plan on the assumption that any part of their infrastructure could be impacted, whatever the reason.” Gerken noted that firms that had successfully achieved a level of resilience that survives a crisis had established the necessary mechanisms to bring the business together to respond where and when risks materialised, no matter why or how.

We’ll talk about the bit we know best here; by testing for cyber resilience, a company can do more than prepare for the worst sort of attacks it may face. This process can help any business get a clearer view of how it operates, and how well it is prepared for all kinds of surprises.

Assumptions and the mechanisms they should produce are the best way to prepare for the unknown. But, as the boxer Mike Tyson once said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” The aim of cyber resilience is to build an effective security posture that survives that first punch, and the several that are likely to follow. So how can an institution be confident that they’ve achieved genuine operational resilience?

This requires an organization to honestly assess itself through the motto inscribed at the front of the Temple of Delphi: “Know thyself.” And when it comes to cyber security, there is a way for an organization to test just how thoroughly it comprehends its own strengths and weaknesses.

Callum Roxan

Callum Roxan

The Bank of England was the first central bank to help develop the framework for institutions to test the integrity of their systems. CBEST is made up of controlled, bespoke, intelligence-led cyber security tests that replicate behaviours of those threat actors, and often have unforeseen or secondary benefits. Gerken notes that the “firms that did best in the testing tended to be those that really understood their organisations. They understood their own needs, strengths and weaknesses, and reflected this in the way they built resilience.”

In short, testing cyber resilience can provide clear insight into an institution’s operational resilience in general.

Gaining that specific knowledge without a “near-death” experience is obviously a significant win for any establishment. And testing for operational resilience throughout the industry can provide some reminders of the steps every organization should take so that testing provides unique insists about their institution, and not just a checklist of cyber defence basics.

The IIF/McKinsey Cyber Resilience Survey of the financial services industry released in March lasy year provided six sets of immediate actions that institutions could take to improve their cyber security posture. The toplines of these recommendations were:

  1. Do the basics, patch your vulnerabilities.
  2. Review your cloud architecture and security capabilities.
  3. Reduce your supply chain risk.
  4. Practice your incident response and recovery capabilities.
  5. Set aside a specific cyber security budget and prioritise it
  6. Build a skilled talent pool and optimize resources through automation.

But let’s be honest: If simply reading a solid list of recommendations created cyber resilience, cyber criminals would be out of business. Unfortunately, cyber crime as a business is booming and threat actors targeting essential financial institutions through cyber attacks are likely earning billions in the trillion dollar industry of financial crime.A list can’t reveal an institution’s unique weaknesses, those security failings and chokepoints that could shudder operations, not just during a successful cyber attack but during various other crises that challenge their operations. And the failings that lead to flaws in an institution’s cyber defence likely reverberate throughout the organization as liabilities that other crises would likely expose.

The best way to get a sense of operational resilience will always be to simulate the worst that attackers can summon. That’s why the time to test yourself is now, before someone else does.

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Thomson Reuters to stress AI, machine learning in a post-pandemic world




By Kenneth Li and Nick Zieminski

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Thomson Reuters Corp will streamline technology, close offices and rely more on machines to prepare for a post-pandemic world, the news and information group said on Tuesday, as it reported higher sales and operating profit.

The Toronto-headquartered company will spend $500 million to $600 million over two years to burnish its technology credentials, investing in AI and machine learning to get data faster to professional customers increasingly working from home during the coronavirus crisis.

It will transition from a content provider to a content-driven technology company, and from a holding company to an operational structure.

Thomson Reuters’ New York- and Toronto-listed shares each gained more than 8%.

It aims to cut annual operating expenses by $600 million through eliminating duplicate functions, modernizing and consolidating technology, as well as through attrition and shrinking its real estate footprint. Layoffs are not a focus of the cost cuts and there are no current plans to divest assets as part of this plan, the company said.

“We look at the changing behaviors as a result of COVID … on professionals working from home working remotely being much more reliant on 24-7, digital always-on, sort of real-time always available information, served through software and powered by AI and ML (machine learning),” Chief Executive Steve Hasker said in an interview.

Sales growth is forecast to accelerate in each of the next three years compared with 1.3% reported sales growth for 2020, the company said in its earnings release.

Thomson Reuters, which owns Reuters News, said revenues rose 2% to $1.62 billion, while its operating profit jumped more than 300% to $956 million, reflecting the sale of an investment and other items.

Its three main divisions, Legal Professionals, Tax & Accounting Professionals, and Corporates, all showed higher organic quarterly sales and adjusted profit. As part of the two-year change program, the corporate, legal and tax side will operate more as one customer-facing entity.

Adjusted earnings per share of 54 cents were ahead of the 46 cents expected, based on data from Refinitiv.

The company raised its annual dividend by 10 cents to $1.62 per share.

The Reuters News business showed lower revenue in the fourth quarter. In January, Stephen J. Adler, Reuters’ editor-in-chief for the past decade, said he would retire in April from the world’s largest international news provider.

Thomson Reuters also said its stake in The London Stock Exchange is now worth about $11.2 billion.

The LSE last month completed its $27-billion takeover of data and analytics business Refinitiv, 45%-owned by Thomson Reuters.

(Reporting by Ken Li, writing by Nick Zieminski in New York, editing by Louise Heavens and Jane Merriman)


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