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How financial institutions can keep data safer

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How financial institutions can keep data safer

By Matt Lock, Technical Director at Varonis

Matt Lock

Matt Lock

The financial sector is a prime target for threat actors looking to make money by infiltrating corporate networks to steal data or insider information or install ransomware. Not only could this result in the loss of data, funds and reputation, but it could also land the concerned institution with a large fine from regulators.In 2018 the FCA issued fines totalling more than £60 million, a sizeable proportion of which was due to data breaches.

Unfortunately, many banks and financial institutions are making life easier for those wishing to steal critical information from them simply as a result of poor cyber security practices. This often comes down to how security risks are prioritised within the business,which is the responsibility of the C-suite. They must understand and keep up to date on the latest threats and the tactics cybercriminals use. This will help inform the appropriate allocation of budgets and resources in line with the level of risk.

Reduce exposed data

Some of the biggest risk factors that financial institutions face is unmanaged access to data and storing too much unused and unnecessary data on their networks.

For instance, in one organisation we discovered a payroll file open to the entire company. Even the receptionist on the front desk could easily access confidential payroll files through her account.

This company isn’t alone. Varonis research found that the average organisation operating in the financial industry leaves one in five (21 percent) of its sensitive files and folders exposed.On average, financial institutions had 352,700 unprotected, sensitive files accessible to anyone on the corporate system.

This is a concern for a number of reasons. Firstly, unrestricted access to files means that anyone in an organisation can view and alter files regardless of their job role,whether they genuinely need access or not.For example, should a temporary consultant be able to access and change a client’s personally identifiable information (PII)?As such, if any unauthorised changes are made to a file, or it is leaked outside the organisation, there is little insight as to how this happened or who is responsible.

Secondly, if a threat actor does manage to infiltrate a corporate network, they will have unfettered access to any data that is not restricted. The implication is that hundreds,or even thousands,of files could be quickly and easily stolen before an information security team is even aware there is an unauthorised person on the system.Permissive access can have significant implications if an organisation falls victim to ransomware; if the individual that is compromised has global access rights, all the data that they can access will be encrypted.

To reduce exposure and keep these files and folders safe, financial institutions need to operate a policy of “least privilege”, where employees only have access to the data needed to carry out their roles. Measures for implementing a least privilege approach to information security include: removing global access to data; ensuring that all data has an owner or steward and regularly re-certifying access to reflect role changes or staff leaving.

Automation plays a key role in enforcing least privilege as it can be used to discover those accounts that have access to information they do not need for their job role.

Crack down on overdue passwords

When looking to protect access to data through login details, setting expiry dates for passwords is essential, as this forces users to create new ones on a regular basis. If there is no end date, threat actors have longer to figure out what a particular password is, and it gives them unlimited time once they are in a corporate network.Creating an end date for passwords also means that it is less likely that the credentials of someone who has left the company will still be valid and provide a threat actor with a way into a network. Yet despite the clear benefits, our research found that 38 percent of users had passwords that never expire.

Remove stale data

Another significant issue affecting the security of organisations is data that is out of date, no longer in use or just generally redundant, known as stale data.Holding on to that data unnecessarily simply creates more challenges, not only security risks but also management and storage costs.

Our research discovered that more than half (53 percent) of all data in a company is stale, and nearly nine out of 10 (87 percent) companies have more than 1,000 stale files – seven out of 10 (71 percent) have upward of 5,000.

Financial organisations need to know exactly what data they have on their corporate networks and where it is. This is not only beneficial for security issues, but it can also help improve the overall business. For starters, the less data an organisation has to keep, the less it needs to spend on storage. Then there are Data Subject Access Requests (DSARs), which enable individuals to request any information that a company holds on them and how it is being used. Under the GDPR the timeframe for responding to these requests has been reduced from 40 days to a calendar month and organisations can no longer charge a fee.Financial institutions need to know what and where this information is if they are to have any chance of responding to the DSAR within the time limit.

Regain control

To take back control of their data, financial institutions need to conduct a complete analysis of all the folders and files on their corporate networks down to granular detail. This must highlight data that is stale and enable an organisation to either delete it from the system or archive it. The analysis should also identify who has access to which files and folders to allow permissions to be changed so that they are only accessible to those that need them for their work,based upon the least privilege approach.

Protecting data should the top business priority for the C-suite of financial institutions. Doing so not only protects the integrity of customers’ data but also guards the business from reputational damage, the potential loss of income, and the risks of hefty fines.

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

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'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”.

‘ANIMATING THE PAST’

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 http://news.trust.org)

 

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

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REMOTE WORKING STRATEGY REQUIRED TO STRENGTHEN CYBER RESILIENCE

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

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gbaf1news

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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