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Tracking Emerging Threats Within the Financial Services Industry

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Tracking Emerging Threats Within the Financial Services Industry

By Anthony Giandomenico, Senior Security Strategist and Researcher, CTI Lead, FortiGuard Labs

The financial services industry has long been a target for cyber criminals looking to steal valuable customer and financial information. Defending against these criminal efforts has become even more challenging in recent years due to digital transformation efforts that have weakened the ability of many organizations to adequately secure their data. Many financial institutions feel trapped in a classic Catch-22 situation: Customers continue to demand new digital solutions, which force banks and other institutions to expand their potential attack surface through the adoption of new platforms and services. At the same time, regulatory controls require them to have the necessary security infrastructures in place to protect both their clients and themselves from malicious activity.

Anthony Giandomenico

Anthony Giandomenico

To address this conundrum, organizations within the financial services industry must take two steps. First, they need to adopt a security-driven networking strategy that binds any expansion of networks and services to a consistent and enforceable security architecture – you have to be able to secure it before you can build it, send it, develop it or connect to it. And second, they need to stay up to date with the latest cyber threat trends, as this will directly impact their ability to secure critical client data. With that in mind, Fortinet’s recent Q3 Threat Landscape Report highlights several emerging threats that CISOs and their teams need to be aware of moving forward.

Emotet is Still Highly Active

The past quarter saw cybercriminals increasingly using banking Trojans as a means to maximize their financial gains. This was reflected by the increased level of Emotet Trojan activity that was observed across networks. This spike in activity can be attributed in part to Emotet being used in a spear phishing campaign to distribute TrickBot, another well-known banking Trojan. By using Emotet as a payload delivery mechanism, cyber criminals were able to infect vulnerable systems with a variety of banking malware in a single attack.

This threat is particularly concerning due to the fact that Emotet is wormable, meaning that once it infects a system it can spread laterally, quickly infecting entire networks. Furthermore, packaging additional malware with Emotet gives cybercriminals the ability to launch large-scale attacks with relative ease. This form of malware distribution is consistent with attack trends that have been observed across the cyber landscape in Q3, highlighting the growth of the Malware-as-a-Service (MaaS) model. In fact, the Emotet developers have now launch a MaaSversion of their malware, allowing criminal consumers – for a fee – to leverage the millions of devices currently infected with Emotet to deliver additional malware to targeted organizations.

The scale of Emotet’s current campaign, as well as its capabilities, gives the banking Trojan enormous threat potential. It’s why the US Department of Homeland Security has labeled as one of the most costly and destructive systems in the world. And the continuous updates being provided by its very active development team mean that it is unlikely to be thwarted for quite some time. For that reason, it is essential that financial organizations stay informed on its latest iterations. And with that very concern in mind, FortiGuard Labs recently released a new Adversary Playbook that provides valuable information for detecting, understanding, and addressing recent iterations of Emotet.

Banking Malware is Evolving

TrickBot and IcedID were two other banking malware families that were highly active over the third quarter. TrickBot, while initially only functioning as a banking trojan, has begun to evolve its capabilities, making it a more persistent threat. There were several new iterations of TrickBot that were observed, one of which employed a spamming module to gain access to systems and steal data. Another variation of the malware was equipped with a module for stealing credentials, autofill data and other information from an infected host.

IcedID, while still a relatively new trojan, has enormous threat potential within the financial sector. This is because the malware is constantly evolving, making it incredibly difficult for security teams to detect and manage. Initially, IcedID worked by infecting itself on browsers and manipulating traffic to steal bank account information. However, recent variants of the malware are able to do more than just steal data. Fortinet research conducted on the malware in June revealed that it is now able to deliver a TrickBot payload and, presumably, other payloads as well.

The evolution of these malware variants targeting the financial sector highlights how important having actionable threat intelligence is when creating secure infrastructures. The ever-growing threat they pose to the financial services industry must not be understated, and in order for organizations to protect their data, they must constantly monitor the latest iterations of each of these banking trojans.

Final Thoughts

Cybercriminals are continually modifying their attack techniques to not only improve the accuracy of attacks but to better exploit the digital transformation efforts of their targeted organizations. Their goal is to deliver more effective and malicious payloads, as well as use advanced techniques to evade detection. In order to protect against this, financial institutions must rely on threat intelligence, as it will enhance their ability to thwart potential attacks and keep their critical data secure. This must be combined with a security-driven networking strategy to ensure that none of their efforts to meet evolving consumer demands ever puts themselves or their customers at risk.

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Iron Mountain 2021 Outlook

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Iron Mountain 2021 Outlook 1

By Stuart Bernard, VP of Digital Solutions at Iron Mountain

The Covid-19 pandemic is continuing to rewrite the rules governing how we live and work; no crystal ball is needed to identify that general trend. However, what is perhaps less clear is how this reshaping of our traditional work/life patterns will play out in physical, day-to-day terms during 2021.

To fully understand the impact of the virus on employment practices requires an investigation of two evolving challenges: how and where we work. These interlinked issues are already having a profound influence on a wide range of business processes and they are continuing to fundamentally and irrevocably altering the world of employment for people around the world.

Cost reduction will top business priorities

For most businesses, the need to preserve cash will be a major concern over the coming 12 months. Uncertain trading conditions customarily tighten purse strings so we can expect some near-term cost reduction measure. An agile, flexible approach to office space offers an immediate monetary benefit, which in combination with a widespread acceptance of remote working, provides ample opportunities for downsizing real estate holdings. This will enable businesses to divert cash to crucial customer-facing operations, helping protect bottom line performance.

Flexible working will enable greater workforce diversity

However, there is an enduring need for companies to provide offices for their employees, if only to support face-to-face collaborations and ensure that there’s an opportunity for direct learning and training to support career development. For many people, a single place of employment will no longer be the norm – a flexible mix of home, remote and office-based work will be the new reality. However, knitting dispersed employees together into an integrated unit is problematic. Meeting the needs of a hybrid workforce will require the implementation of seamless digital workflows that are responsive and robust enough to ensure that staff can be productive and connected no matter their location.

An unintended benefit of operating a hybrid workforce is the increased level of flexibility it provides when recruiting staff. This has the potential to open up the talent pool beyond conventional geographic areas, boosting access to skills and experience from a wider area. Once again, in order to maximise the opportunities this provides, it will be necessary to assemble a robust digital network in order to bridge physical distances as well as potential cultural ones, depending on how widespread a workforce becomes.

Stuart Bernard

Stuart Bernard

Automated workflows will become critical

For 2021 it’s not just where businesses operate that’s going to change; the requirements of customers are likely to transform, too. This will be especially apparent when it comes to signing contracts and delivering services. Lockdowns and Covid-19 related restrictions on traditional in-person meetings are going to herald the demise of conventionally signed documents in many instances; they are also likely to change how records are shared and stored. An increasing reliance on digital workflows will require the parallel adoption of secure digital storage and handling. Specifically, Iron Mountain’s research reveals that IT support (49%), customer relationship management (36%) and overseeing team resourcing (34%) are the top three processes digitised in response to lockdown.

Nevertheless, efficiently storing existing physical documents or ensuring their safe destruction remain important functions that businesses should not neglect, even if they’re moving to predominantly digital workflows.

Importantly, digitising processes offers a range of benefits that will outlast the current global pandemic. According to our research sample there are four key benefits, which all deliver long-term value: increased productivity (the most popular response at 27%), time savings (20%), enhanced data quality (13%) and cost reductions (12%). Irrespective of trading conditions, there are all important developments that any forward-looking business will want to gain.

Protecting bottom line performance

How does all this work in practice? Well, a fully-searchable on-line repository will enable a company to quickly and cost-effectively access and archive documents, thanks to an array of enhanced search functions. During a period of intensified competition and pressure on bottom line performance this level of functionality delivers real-time benefits that not only meets the needs of a transforming business, it also adds value and consistency to customer services. Similarly, once in place, a properly designed digital workflow system will also be able to automate processes, allowing valuable time and budget to be preserved. What at first might look like a costly investment can quickly turn into a business driver by creating a unified and responsive platform for document and contract management with anytime, anywhere access.

Despite the changing employment patterns, 2021 will show that the physical office space will not cease to exist. Having said that, the way we remember it might change as hybrid working becomes more common place. The coming year will also reinforce the importance of enterprises being flexible and agile – those that cling onto outmoded ways of operating will lose their competitive advantage during a period of dramatic change. Importantly, in order to maximise their opportunities businesses will need to invest in the best available digital tools; adopting and adapting to a paper-free workflow aren’t optional: the next 12 months are going to transform how we create, transfer, share, store and action documents thanks to an increasing use of automated workflows.

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Jack Henry shares six areas of focus for financial institutions in 2021

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Jack Henry shares six areas of focus for financial institutions in 2021 2

Reflecting back on 2020, the community banking and credit union industries should be proud of how this unprecedented pandemic and resulting economic crisis was managed. It was a truly remarkable time in which organizations worked together to take care of their employees, serve and support our communities, and operate their businesses efficiently despite significant challenges.

Now in 2021, the financial services industry is focused on moving forward – and is well positioned to do so. The technology demands faced over the last year were tremendous, but they were not a surprise. Jack Henry has been steadily working toward building digital, user centric, and open technologies that allow community banks and credit unions to meet customer and member needs personally and at their time and location of choice. The company is constantly evaluating industry trends and developing the technology necessary to prepare financial institutions for continued success. Below are a few areas of focus in 2021:

  • The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) continues. An additional $284 billion has been approved for PPP lending, including new loan eligibility and the option for qualifying businesses to receive a second loan. Preparing for the dissemination of these funds, all while managing the forgiveness process, is top of mind for many bankers. Community banks and credit unions can continue to benefit from participating in this program by gaining and strengthening small business customers as well as playing a significant role in extending loans to minority- and female-owned businesses. In fact, in addition to facilitating the majority of the small business PPP loans in 2020, community banks originated 72.6% of PPP loans made to non-white small business owners and 71.5% of PPP loans made to female small business owners.
  • Digital banking continues rapid acceleration. Digital banking adoption has reached record highs, and enhancing digital service is a top priority. The area is constantly evolving in speed, personalization and openness. The key to continued success is to stay focused on the needs of people, identify digital solutions that draw people in, engage them, and focus more on providing human-centered service in moments of need. Platforms should offer open infrastructure that makes it easy for institutions to embed their solutions of choice, preparing them for the future.
  • Payments platforms take center stage. It’s critical for financial institutions to broaden their payments options, moving toward an approach that provides end users with robust features combined with an excellent experience. An integrated payments infrastructure that provides frictionless, real-time experiences will be necessary to compete with big banks and fintechs. Financial institutions will partner with vendors that can help to build the right platform for their unique customer and member preferences.
  • Digital transformation in mortgage lending. Mortgages rates have dropped to record lows and the Federal Reserve has expressed no plans to change the rate environment until 2022 or beyond. Bankers must drive efficiency to compete. They need automation and seamless workflows that effectively measure credit risk and streamline previously manual processes. This empowers lenders to focus on building relationships and growing portfolios. Borrowers will benefit also from the added speed and connectivity with their lender.
  • Changes in the new administration. With the pending changes in Washington, a new administration will most likely swing the pendulum back toward an environment of stricter banking regulation. Economic recovery has also been identified as a top priority by the new administration. Banks and credit unions must have agile technology and processes in place to respond; outsourcing will help many with these adjustments.

Transparency and fairness in lending. Given the social environment in our country today, Jack Henry expects a real focus this year on diversity and inclusion in banking, especially around access to fair credit and lending costs. Many organizations, Jack Henry included, have taken a formal stance in supporting racial justice and equality. Working together to ensure that lending clients are treated equitably.

This year will continue to be about partnerships that are committed to doing the right thing and providing for local communities. Together, fintechs and financial institutions can develop joint strategies and modern technology that drive success, both today and tomorrow.

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Seven lessons from 2020

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Seven lessons from 2020 3

Rebeca Ehrnrooth, Equilibrium Capital and CEMS Alumni Association President

 

Attending a New Year’s luncheon on 31 December 2019, we played a game that involved predicting the world in 2020. Some of the questions included: would Uber become profitable? Would the three-decade bond rally finally come to an end? Would the US hit a recession?

Unlike any of our predictions based on a traditional approach to business and predicting, we now know that 2020 became the year where business, professional and personal plans were turned upside down, reshaped and put-on hold. The proverbial black swan had arrived.

As revealed in a new CEMS Guide to Leadership in a Post-COVID-19 World, to which I contributed, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed deficiencies in the 20th Century vision of leadership, giving a rare opportunity to question the status quo.

So, what are the main lessons from 2020?

  1. Humans are enormously adaptive.  This is not an extinction scenario. The world is getting used to dealing with global human disaster which may become a recurring event. Life continues guided by new parameters.

  1. No sector or country is immune to rapid change. Just as the leveraged finance and equity markets ground to a halt during the Global Financial Crisis, we have seen a disruption in the financial markets (including M&A) in 2020, including a significant redistribution of wealth between sectors; think tech vs airlines and the hospitality industry. When a market is disrupted it has secondary and tertiary effects such as less work for accountants, lawyers, financiers etc.

 

  1. Location is not as important anymore. The belief that finance staff need to be based in one of the financial capitals to be effective has been forever altered. Pursuing a career in finance from anywhere is becoming possible. However, it’s likely that over time, financial controls and human interaction will move the work model back towards the traditional office approach, as work is a critical sanctuary for people. While working from home may allow more time for family, chores and sports, it is mainly effective for people who already have their internal and external networks. For junior employees it presents a notable challenge as they may be forced to spend their formative years without a chance to really build their networks.

 

  1. Change is likely to be lasting. The opportunity for alternative finance and tech focused providers is enormous and 2020 will accelerate this shift. For example, many retail banks are providing rather poor customer service, blaming the pandemic. Even the most loyal customers will be heading elsewhere. For recent graduates and current students this is a major shift; future winners and key employers may not be names we are used to seeing in the headlines.

 

  1. There will be a spotlight on leaders with visionary strategy and understanding of the operations. 2020 showed many politicians and business leaders behaving like they were playing a game of snakes and ladders, rather than executing a thought-out strategy. The next wave of thoughtful leadership is urgently required.

 

  1. Collaboration leads to success. The definition of a pandemic is an infectious disease prevalent worldwide. A global problem requires a collaborative solution rather than each country and industry on their own. Quoting Steven Riley, professor of infectious disease dynamics at Imperial College London: “Once you have the knowledge and you share the knowledge, then you are able to take measures to push transmission much lower”. This principle is transferable to management education. In a world more complex than ever, investing in a degree is hard currency. Combined with the full global alumni network, corporate partners and schools, CEMS is capital that doesn’t depreciate.

  1. Resilience has become a watch word. Saint-Exupéry’s quote resonates with me: “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” We are in a new paradigm – so prepare for the next change. For COVID-19, while we hope that the vaccine will soon upon us, the broader long-term positive challenge remains.
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