Attack Surface Threats to Financial Services in 2023: Mitigate Security Risks with Intelligence
The financial services industry fulfills numerous societal needs in today’s world, from allowing payments and transactions to promoting economic resilience. To enable this reliance, financial services organizations have long harvested the benefits of technology and spurred a wave of advancements capitalizing on new opportunities, from improved speed and convenience to an enhanced customer experience.
But while tremendous innovations in internet banking, mobile apps, and instant payments have made these benefits possible, they have also opened new attack vectors and potential exposures in the IT infrastructure of financial service providers and challenged their core: customer trust.
Financial services organizations across the globe must, at all times, secure customer data and maintain their confidence. Such a challenge is compounded by the stringent regulations that surround the handling of consumer data. And with the threat of massive financial, regulatory and reputational consequences hanging in the balance, fortified cybersecurity is not only a commodity; it’s a necessity.
Importance of Cybersecurity for Financial Services Organizations
It has been five years since the massive Equifax breach, which involved the loss of 148 million personal records and led to a $700 million court settlement. The Equifax breach had a wide-reaching blast radius, impacting and challenging attitudes toward cybersecurity across the global financial sector and the public. Unfortunately, the most significant lessons learned from this breach haven’t seemed to “take.”
In 2020, Christine Lagarde, President of the European Central Bank and former head of the International Monetary Fund, warned that a severe cyberattack could trigger a financial crisis. While most financial institutions plan to or are already investing heavily in cybersecurity, financial data breaches accounted for 153.3 million leaked records from January 2018 to June 2022, according to research by Comparitech.
What trends are exacerbating the current cyber risk faced by financial services providers?
The financial sector’s ongoing digital transformation and the post-pandemic increase in cloud reliance have caused the sector’s attack surface to grow exponentially, exposing organizations to increased cyber threats. The current economic turmoil has also led to a rise in malicious actors looking to steal sensitive information and sell it on the dark market, or to commit fraud and gain access to an account’s funds. And because financial services organizations work with large amounts of information about clients, partners and employees, such sensitive data makes them ideal targets for cybercriminals.
Top Cyber Threats to Financial Services in 2023
To better understand how modern financial institutions can boost their cyber resilience and keep their infrastructure and data secure, let’s examine the current state of financial service providers' most perilous cyber threats across North America, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.
Phishing attacks often involve emails designed to appear legitimate—to trick the user into opening a malicious link that installs malware on the recipient's computer or visiting a website domain designed to look convincing enough for the visitor to log in and divulge their credentials. This can cause severe financial and reputational damage to financial organizations.
Phishing attacks are common in financial services organizations. Recently, news broke out that a persistent campaign has been targeting major financial institutions in French-speaking African countries for over the last two years. The campaign was discovered by Check Point Research and dubbed 'DangerousSavanna.' It relied on spear phishing to infect the computers of major financial corporations’ employees and successfully affected at least three organizations.
Ransomware is one of the biggest cyber threats organizations face in the global financial industry. A report by Sophos shows that ransomware attacks on financial services have increased, with 55% of organizations impacted during 2021.
Ransomware is a type of malware that targets individual users or systems, encrypting a specific number of files on disk only to deny access to the owner at a later time. Access to those files can be restored after a ransom is paid. One of the oldest tricks in the book, ransomware attacks introduce large costs of remediation: financial services organizations have reported that the average remediation cost for ransomware attacks is $1.59 million.
While other cyber threats commonly aim to steal sensitive data, cyber criminals use distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks to flood a website with traffic from various compromised devices and IPs, causing it to crash. DDoS attacks can interrupt and fully stop business operations, leading to significant financial losses. They are especially common and dangerous for financial services organizations.
In 2021, a German organization operating technology for the country’s cooperative banks, Fiducia & GAD IT, suffered a DDoS attack that impacted over 800 financial institutions. And financial services organizations across the entire EMEA region and North America are at risk of ransomware attacks as well.
A report by Radware shows that in 2021, 25% of all DDoS attacks affected the financial industry, making it the most targeted sector. This is due to DDoS attacks often being used as part of a more complex attack chain, where taking down a website is merely a distraction from an even more serious action, such as an entire account takeover or money laundering.
Exploitation of Vulnerabilities and Misconfigurations
Exploiting known vulnerabilities and misconfigurations is one of the most common attack vectors malicious actors use for initial access, allowing them to target several organizations at once. By scanning for assets containing vulnerabilities during the first stages of an attack, attackers can target many organizations.
Meanwhile, exploitation of security vulnerabilities and misconfigurations has been testing financial cyber defense strategies globally. For example, who can forget the Log4J vulnerability that impacted critical infrastructure, including financial services?
As mentioned, financial services organizations have taken advantage of cloud technology and achieved many digital transformation successes. This includes new digital services, the use of third-party software, platform modernization, and the deployment of new technologies. In turn, all this growth largely extends attack surfaces across financial services organizations. Such a complex environment can make it challenging for organizations to identify, monitor, and protect each digital asset, while even a single misconfiguration can provide attackers with the initial entry point they need.
Supply Chain Attacks
Supply chain attacks are becoming more widespread and more sophisticated. The SolarWinds attack showed how a cyberattack on a single vendor could have a blast radius impacting governments and organizations worldwide.
As financial organizations increasingly use third-party vendors to host, connect, and protect a large part of their IT infrastructures, managing cyber risks in supply chains is one of the biggest security challenges for organizations everywhere. Reports show that the vast majority of Middle East and African business leaders across large organizations, including financial, struggle to understand the risks their digital supply chains pose. With governments imposing strict regulations on financial services, visibility and management of their third-party infrastructure are crucial to avoid damaging cyberattacks.
How to Reduce Attack Surface Exposure and Mitigate Security Risks to Financial Services
Through digital transformation, financial services organizations are more dependent on the internet than ever. Its many advancements have resulted in the proliferation of countless digital assets across financial institutions. With so many cyber threats increasingly targeting financial services and their ever-growing IT infrastructures, the ability to have a real-time, full understanding and overview of all internet-connected assets becomes a key role in fortifying their security posture.
Recorded Future’s Attack Surface Intelligence is a platform that allows organizations to achieve proactive attack surface monitoring and uncover any blind spots, empowering security teams to prioritize and mitigate risk across their evolving IT infrastructure.
Without a complete overview of an organization’s internet-facing assets, it’s easy to overlook a vulnerability. For instance, when a certain CVE is observed in the wild, it can be hard to discover and mitigate if you don’t know what assets need scanning. Furthermore, if a cyberattack occurs, lacking a complete inventory of all your assets can make the threat identification process much longer, leading to a more disruptive incident.
Keeping an accurate, up-to-date asset inventory is essential for any financial services organization that utilizes internet-connected resources. With 10+ years of historical data and deep context on hostnames, domains, IPs, SSL certificates, and more, Attack Surface Intelligence provides financial organizations with a straightforward way to manage their attack surface as it grows, allowing them to spot any inconsistencies that can signal risk, such as phishing domains.
Because it's imperative to fully know and understand your entire IT infrastructure, Attack Surface Intelligence’s continuous monitoring provides real-time visibility into all digital assets and their changes. As one's attack surface is constantly evolving, having this continuous visibility into its state, location, and overall security rate is critical in understanding your digital footprint and the risks that could lead to a cyberattack. With continuous infrastructure monitoring, security teams can be aware of the risk as soon as it appears on an asset, providing a timely chance to accelerate remediation.
With third-party risk and supply chain attacks posing a significant threat to financial service organizations, it’s crucial to monitor and maintain an inventory of all these resources and to be able to find any exposures.
That’s why Attack Surface Intelligence’s Inventory Tab has a handy feature: Admin Panels.
Admin Panels locates administrator panels from popular technologies and software in mere seconds. This allows security teams to find exposed control panels that may be out of compliance with policies, adding unnecessary risk to your organization.
Among its many highlights, the Admin Panel detects all affected IP addresses and hostnames.
While discovering assets containing risks and vulnerabilities, Attack Surface Intelligence provides contextual information to improve risk mitigation. Risk Rules uncovers the most significant weaknesses within the attack surface, making identifying and prioritizing risks easy.
Listing the key risks of digital assets and classifying them based on severity allows security teams to prioritize remediation. To mitigate common vulnerabilities and misconfigurations, Risk Rules includes deep insight into risk severity, affected hostnames, technical references found on the internet, and project metadata such as ID, title, and snapshot creation date of a CVE.
Financial services organizations need a modern, robust security solution to manage and protect their growing IT infrastructures in the wake of increased cyber threats, regulations, and consumer demand.
Learn how world-class financial organizations use Attack Surface Intelligence to monitor, manage and control their critical data. Book your Demo Today.