The financial sector is one of the most essential industries that touch the lives of each and every individual and organization across the globe. As we step into a more connected world, it becomes ever more important to secure the financial ecosystem through robust cyber defenses. The financial sector is one of the prime targets for malicious cyber actors, forcing institutions to invest heavily into upgrading their security operations to improve their readiness for different threats.
Major Threats to the Financial Sector
The prominent cyberthreats facing the financial sector include:
Payment Fraud: Online scams and fraud schemes resulting in fraudulent transfers of money from victims to cybercriminals have become an everyday occurrence. Such payment fraud cases lead to billions of dollars of losses for companies and individuals every year.
Social Engineering/Business Email Compromise: Along similar lines, social engineering attacks and spear-phishing attacks can result in the compromise of employee credentials at financial sector organizations. This kind of access can enable the lateral movement of cybercriminals within the organization’s systems and networks to cause more damage.
Credential/Identity Theft: Through historical data breaches and credential stuffing attacks, cybercriminals can steal the identity of banking customers and use it to take over their accounts and steal their funds.
State-Sponsored Attacks: In recent years, we have witnessed a growing threat from state-backed cyber adversaries targeting critical infrastructure sectors. Such threat groups possess a high level of technical skills and resources. They often aim to conduct espionage or disrupt crucial business operations to disrupt a nation’s economy.
Unauthorized Access: Instances of data leaks or breaches due to inappropriate access controls or security misconfigurations in cloud servers and applications have become all too common these days. Financial sector organizations need to be cognizant of the risks posed by publicly exposed assets.
Supply chain Attacks/Third-Party Risks: Cybersecurity cannot be treated as an insular concern for an organization. Organizations have to consider the security implications from third-party risks posed due to vulnerabilities in their hardware or software supply chains or due to breaches at their vendors, partners, or other stakeholders.
Ransomware Attacks: If there is a single kind of cyberthreat that has grabbed mindshare across various industries, it is the threat of ransomware attacks. With the use of clever double/triple extortion techniques in the last few years, ransomware gangs have caused major disruption.
Zero-day Vulnerabilities: Organizations in the financial sector rely on a variety of applications, tools, and technologies to conduct their business operations. Any unreported vulnerabilities in such applications can be exploited by cybercriminals to infiltrate their systems and networks.
Significant Cybersecurity Challenges
In order to defend against the aforementioned threats, financial sector organizations need robust security operations that can secure the diverse assets and data deployed by organizations. However, it is not all smooth sailing for security teams at financial sector organizations as they face the challenge of countering new and sophisticated threats rising every day in the cyber landscape, while efficiently leveraging the people, processes, and technologies at hand. Some of the challenges they face include:
Threat response: Modern cybersecurity teams cannot afford to just respond to incidents after they are reported, but they also need to take proactive actions to curb other emerging threats facing their organization. Any delay in threat response can lead to greater operational disruption, data leakage, or recovery time. Financial institutions need to leverage orchestration and automation to upgrade their threat detection and response capabilities to rapidly respond to threats in real-time and even proactively.
Visibility: To gain a complete understanding of the threat environment, security teams and the organizational leadership need extensive visibility around different kinds of security risks, threats, security controls, and exceptions, across their cloud-based or on-premise infrastructure.
Governance: As security teams need to triage hundreds or thousands of alerts on a daily basis, financial institutions need effective security governance to manage their human and technical resources to smoothly conduct threat investigations, response, hunting, vulnerability management, and other functions.
Collaboration: In legacy security operations centers (SOCs), various security teams often end up operating in their own silos with minimal scope for information exchange and collaboration with other functions. This leads to inefficiencies, knowledge gaps, and an incohesive response to threats.
Use Cases of Cyber Fusion
To boost their cyber resilience, financial institutions need to rethink how all the moving parts in their security operations are organized and how they can make the most out of it. The concept of a Cyber Fusion Center (CFC) allows organizations to integrate their various security functions into a single, connected operational unit. This approach to cybersecurity can help address a number of pertinent security use cases for financial institutions.
Threat Intel Operationalization: The use of threat intelligence can help dramatically improve the threat detection and response capabilities of an organization. This includes threat intel from external sources such as ISAC advisories, OSINT sources, commercial intel feeds, research blogs, and insights from internal telemetry from SIEM, firewall, IDS/IPS, and other tools. Security teams in a CFC benefit from the last-mile delivery of this threat intelligence to smartly direct their security processes and proactively counter potential threats before they manifest into an incident. Information Sharing: A CFC enables real-time information sharing among different security teams within an organization as well as allows decision-makers to coordinate and collaborate with other financial sector organizations through information sharing communities (ISACs/ISAOs) or private enterprise sharing networks. Cyber/Physical Incident Reporting: In the financial sector, there are tangible, monetary consequences of delays in responding to security incidents. A CFC enables users to share threat intelligence or report cyber/physical incidents or threats 24x7 using the web or mobile devices from any location. Enriched, anonymized, and actionable threat intelligence can also be shared with members spread across different locations through a centralized CFC. Intel Collaboration: To promote a collaborative approach to security operations, CFCs provide members the ability to create Requests for Information (RFIs) to assemble information on specific threats, operational activities, policies, or other issues. Members can also create alerts from RFIs submitted by other members, thereby boosting cooperation among security analysts and other professionals developing and managing the organization’s technology infrastructure. Threat Response Automation: A CFC brings the power of Security Orchestration, Automation, and Response (SOAR) to accelerate the threat response processes using automated, cross-functional workflows that drive security actions across cloud-based and on-premise infrastructures. Vulnerability Management: Whenever a new critical vulnerability is discovered, the clock starts ticking as cybercriminals are in a race to exploit it to breach organizations. In a CFC, security teams can create automated workflows to patch vulnerabilities or implement workarounds to prevent the exploitation of their backend systems, servers, endpoints, applications, and more.
Threat Hunting: The legacy systems used in the financial sector that lack vendor support and critical vulnerability patches can create room for attackers to enter their networks. Through a CFC, security teams can proactively hunt for any threats attempting to intrude on their systems and also use known vulnerability exploitation indicators as intelligence inputs to trigger response actions to prevent a crisis.
Crisis Communication: In times of a cybersecurity crisis, an organization cannot afford to suffer any delays in providing adequate response and communicating it to their stakeholders. Financial institutions can ensure that even if one of their systems faces an intrusion, it can be prevented from spreading laterally across their networks by sharing threat information and coordinating response actions with all stakeholders through the CFC. Threat Correlation and Analysis: When security events and threat data from multiple internal and external sources are combined in a single interface in a CFC, it unlocks the opportunity to connect the dots between assets, alerts, incidents, Indicators of Compromise (IOCs), and other key elements. This allows security teams to assess the true impact of an incident and conduct in-depth investigations. Financial Fraud Response: The use of security orchestration and automation in a CFC can help trigger the necessary actions for detecting and investigating fraudulent activity, disabling compromised accounts, communicating to the affected parties and stakeholders, and then restoring the affected assets. Furthermore, security teams can leverage fraud intelligence from OSINT sources, ISAC/CERT advisories, intel feeds, dark web forums, as well as internal telemetry to correlate and analyze the malicious activity on their networks with other historical incidents. This enables a more in-depth understanding of the threat and a better response Third-party Risk Monitoring: By connecting security operations with internal and external stakeholders through cyber fusion, organizations can keep a check on their third-party security risks and automate response workflows in case of any intrusions. Alert Aggregation and Centralized Storage: A CFC simplifies alert triage and investigation for security analysts through automated alert aggregation from external sources (TI feeds, ISAC/CERT advisories) and internal sources (SIEM, VM, IT/ITSM tools) in a single window. On top of this, it categorizes alerts based on contextual parameters such as TLP, category, and sources. All in all, a CFC provides a central organized management interface for all historical alerts that helps in sharing real-time alerts with security teams and CISOs, performing threat investigations, prioritizing threat actioning, and more. Threat Alerting: Based on their role, location, and business unit, employees require different alerts to stay cognizant of the critical threats affecting their operations. A CFC provides the ability to disseminate threat alerts in real-time to members across different teams to spread situational awareness and enable rapid actions during a cybersecurity crisis. Action Management: When there are tons of incidents, alerts, and threats to manage, security teams cannot afford to rely on conventional methods of task/action management. A CFC addresses this by providing SOC managers with an easy-to-use and customizable system for assigning, tracking, and managing threat response and asset management operations. This makes security governance a breeze for decision-makers as they can create their customized incident workflows, map them to different parameters, and define rules for assigning different workflows based on their needs.
Upsides of Adopting Cyber Fusion
As described above, cyber fusion involves the amalgamation of different security functions, such as incident response, vulnerability management, and threat hunting, under a common umbrella. This lays the ground for streamlined security operations that result in several benefits for financial institutions.
Enhanced Threat Visibility: It is not enough for financial institutions to just monitor threats on certain endpoints and servers located on-premise. Cyber fusion tackles this challenge once and for all by providing unparalleled visibility across all assets, regardless of where they are located or the type of technology infrastructure they are hosted on.
Resilient Cyber Strategy: Through the use of cyber fusion, organizations can build security operations workflows that can withstand the demands of an evolving threat landscape. A CFC provides decision-makers the capability to shape their strategies as per changing security policies, compliance requirements, and technology evolution.
Enhanced Security Maturity: While the digital transformation of financial institutions has been a priority in recent years, cyber fusion helps bring the same level of attention to the maturity of security operations by providing threat intel operationalization, situational awareness, and orchestration among humans and machines in the loop. Collective Defense: The significance of information sharing and collaboration in cybersecurity is now more apparent than ever as financial institutions are facing shared cyber threats from growing nation-state attacks and organized cybercriminal groups. A CFC is built with this very concept of collective defense at its core as it makes security operations a collaborative affair with inclusion of all internal and external stakeholders for an organization.
Whether it is banks, insurance firms, stock exchanges, payment service providers, financial asset managers, central banks, and regulatory bodies, the financial sector includes many stakeholders that face growing cyber risks to their operations. To overcome the security challenges in the present cyberspace, financial institutions are turning to cyber fusion as the driver of change for building resilience through security integration and collective defense.