The goldmine of sensitive data – from credit card to consumer details – means that financial institutions are likely to be under constant attack from hackers trying to find weaknesses in the network so they can get in.
IT teams at banking and financial services organizations are focusing on cyber security more than ever before. This is being driven mainly by two factors:
- Proliferation of ransomware attacks
- Increase in regulatory oversight on financial institutions
This comes at a time when IT teams also face a slew of new challenges to security:
- Increasingly complex IT ecosystems
- Globally distributed operations and a remote workforce
- Growing reliance on third-party connectivity
This has substantially widened the risk surface for banking and financial services organizations. Meanwhile, their IT infrastructure is evolving at an unprecedented pace to keep up with new age fintech firms, making these organizations highly vulnerable to security breaches. It is high time that banking and financial services organizations implement Zero Trust solutions to security. When doing so, here are a few best practice approaches to consider
Decouple Security from Infrastructure
As network infrastructure becomes more complex, managing and securing it is becoming increasingly challenging. When, not if, a malicious user or device manages to bypass security measures in the network layer (such as advanced firewalls), the potential for damage is virtually unlimited. Delegating security to the network no longer guarantees protection for your network assets. On the contrary, organizations should operate under the assumption ‘the network can be breached anytime, by anyone’. Once we concede that a network breach is inevitable, and that no user/device can be trusted, the focus shifts to addressing vulnerabilities at the level of each user and device.
Implement Network Segmentation
Banking and financial services organizations handle highly sensitive data. If all resources can be exposed by a single network breach, millions of records containing customers’ financial information can be compromised. A more practical approach would be to instead break up the larger network into ‘micro segments’, with each individual segment housing a smaller subset of assets/resources. Access to each segment can be a. Encrypted with a separate pair of public and private keys, and b. Require special access privileges. Implementing such a network architecture can drastically shrink an organization’s attack surface. In the event of an inevitable breach, the fallout can be contained to a particular segment alone.
Shift to Secure Remote Access Technologies
Deploying and maintaining a remote workforce has increased the pressure on security teams, and especially so at banking and financial services organizations. Traditionally, VPN tunnels were considered a secure means of enabling employees to remotely access network applications and resources. But several high profile breaches have now been attributed to compromised VPN credentials. It is of utmost importance that organizations transition away from relying on traditional VPNs to curtail this vulnerability. Instead, they should invest in more secure remote access technologies that enable application-specific connectivity. Additionally, this enforces the ‘least privilege access’ principle of Zero Trust security.
Double Down on User and Machine Identity
Vulnerable networks, insecure remote access, compromised credentials of high privilege user accounts, and malware-infected devices are some of the biggest security concerns for banking and financial services organizations. That is why a Zero Trust security model is essential to address these concerns. One of the building blocks of a Zero Trust strategy is to assess the security posture of user accounts and their machines that are part of the extended enterprise network. Validating user and machine identity every time they request access to a network resource ensures better protection against security breaches.
Adopt ‘Least Privilege’ Access Control
When handling sensitive data such as financial information, it becomes vital that access to such data is heavily guarded. Only selective user accounts should be given privileges to access such data. But data is stored in multiple silos across the various software applications that financial institutions use to deliver services to their customers. Typically, once users are verified, they are given broad-based application access, i.e a user account is granted access to all the software applications deployed in the tech stack of a banking and financial services organization. This can easily turn into a massive vulnerability. Even if credentials of one user account are compromised, an attacker would have access to the entire repository of data stored by the financial institution. A Zero Trust model dictates control of access using granular policy enforcement. To minimize the threat of a large-scale data breach, banking and financial services organizations should grant application access privileges on an ‘as-needed’ basis. In the event of a compromise, the damage is contained since each user account can only access a few select applications.
Harmonize Your Tech Stack
New age fintech startups have disrupted the banking and financial services industry through digital-first and mobile-first user experiences. Legacy financial institutions are trying to keep pace with rapidly changing consumer preferences in the way they access and use banking/financial services. This has driven organizations to accelerate their cloud adoption in order to compete with fintech startups. For these businesses, their IT infrastructure is now a hybrid of legacy and cloud technologies. Building a robust security perimeter for such a complex infrastructure setup throws up a unique set of challenges. While the transition from legacy to cloud will be an ongoing process, it is important to put in place sufficient security guard rails in your cloud environment before you migrate your entire infrastructure.
Adopt an Iterative, Incremental Approach to Zero Trust
A Zero Trust approach to security is a combination of technologies, governing policies, and processes that controls who, what, where and when someone connects to your network. As such, migrating to a Zero Trust security architecture should be seen as running a marathon rather than a sprint. Banking and financial services organizations need to not only tackle foundational cybersecurity issues, but also prepare for organizational and cultural changes. To build confidence in zero trust, they will need to engage all necessary stakeholders, from IT to business owners and application end users. Therefore, it is advisable to adopt an iterative and incremental approach that is aligned to business objectives. Tangible results from the early stages of Zero Trust can demonstrate the value of zero trust. In turn, this enhances stakeholder confidence and acceptance to make the migration to zero trust progressively easier.
Accelerated digital transformation has made cloud environments ubiquitous, and increased the scale and scope of cybersecurity attacks. Banking and financial services organizations that handle a goldmine of highly valuable financial data are a prime target for such attacks, and need to adopt a Zero Trust approach to pre-empt the evolving nature of security threats. However, moving to a Zero Trust model requires organizations to navigate and understand a wide array of technology, infrastructure and policy components.