Sabotage: The Latest Threat to the Financial/Banking Industry

Data sabotage is being seen as the latest threat impacting the financial/banking industry. It involves manipulating data such as financial records, bank account data, stock market information or companies’ financial results for financial gain.

Such attacks are sophisticated and can be hard to spot. Both Admiral Michael Rogers, director of the National Security Agency (NSA), and Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper recently warned about the dangers of the emerging sabotage threat.

Speaking at the 2016 RSA Conference earlier this year, Rogers stated that data tampering is No. 2 on his list of his top three security nightmares, behind only a cyberattack against critical infrastructure.

Financial/Banking Industry Ups Security Spending

At present, there is a high level of concern about theft in the financial/banking industry. In the face of increasingly sophisticated attacks, the industry is upping its spend on security.

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal stated that financial firms are planning to increase spending on cybersecurity by $2 billion in the next two years. They’re doing so to prevent a number of cyberattacks, but sabotage remains a concern: According to data from the New York State Department of Financial Services, 9.3 percent of financial firms reported data integrity breaches in 2013.

Data can be manipulated in many sectors, however, including critical infrastructure, health care and any industry that collects large swathes of personal information.

Access Controls, Monitoring Are Key

It’s vital to implement granular levels of access control to prevent unauthorized access to data. Cybercriminals are increasingly targeting privileged users with access to financial data. This necessitates strict enforcement of access policies, especially those of privileged users.

Access control policies and systems are a must, and all activity should be continuously monitored to detect anomalous activity. Strong encryption is essential for protecting data, both when data is at rest in storage and in transmission, to prevent data theft, modification, disclosure or destruction.

It’s also important to monitor all data for unauthorized access using data activity monitoring technology. These tools provide alerts regarding all changes of data and help ensure data integrity, which is key to detecting when data has been altered. A data activity monitoring solution should monitor all data wherever it is on the network or connected devices, providing visibility into all activity.

Education Is Essential

Education is key in fighting any type of cyberthreat, and data sabotage is no different. Many attackers looking to obtain privileged credentials begin with a spear phishing attack, temping their targets to open malicious attachments or click tainted links. Employees should be educated in the dangers of doing so.

Kaspersky Lab uncovered a massive cyberattack targeting the financial/banking industry that started with a spear phishing attack. Once they had gained entry to the targeted institutions, the attackers burrowed into the hearts of the accounting systems, inflating account balances and siphoning off money. It is estimated that around $1 billion was stolen from some 100 financial institutions worldwide.

Attackers are always trying to stay one step ahead of the game, looking for new ways to achieve financial gain. Rather than merely steal data to sell off, more and more cybercriminals are now looking to steal money through sabotage and falsification of data records or transactions. The onus is on the financial/banking industry to ensure that it is on top of this latest threat vector.

Read the IBM white paper: Financial Malware Explained

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Fran Howarth

Senior Analyst, Bloor Research

Fran Howarth is an industry analyst and writer specialising in security. She has worked within the security technology sector for more than 25 years in an advisory capacity as an analyst, consultant and writer. Fran focuses on the business needs for security technologies, with a focus on emerging technology sectors. Current areas of focus include cloud security, data security, identity and access management, network and endpoint security, security intelligence and analytics, and security governance and regulations.