Financial services at greatest risk of cyber attack – but hackers don’t discriminate
Cyber criminals are an organised group. Not only are their attacks becoming more sophisticated as security measures improve, but they are also increasingly targeting the sectors in which their attacks are likely to yield the most profitable results.
Further evidence of this trend is provided by a new report from Raytheon|Websense. The cyber attack and data theft protection expert revealed that the financial services industry is under greatest threat, with one in three incidents identified as ‘lures’ being directed at organisations in the sector.
Most startlingly, financial services firms encounter cyber security incidents 300 per cent more frequently than other industries, while the growing persistence of these attacks is presenting a significant challenge to cyber security professionals.
What do hackers hope to steal from financial services firms?
Of course, cyber criminals have various reasons for targeting financial services companies. Examining the biggest threats facing the industry, researchers discovered that most were linked to theft of data or credentials.
One such example – the Geodo malware, which features its own credential-stealing email worm – is 400 per cent more likely to affect the financial services industry than any other sector.
Carl Leonard, Websense principal security analyst, explained: “The famous quote, attributed to bank robber Willie Sutton, that he robbed banks ‘because that’s where the money is’ applies to cyber criminals as well.
“For years, this industry has been under attack by highly specialised groups of criminals. By analysing the actions and attack patterns prominent and anomalous to this industry, we can share this knowledge to more effectively protect our customers’ data and assets.”
How are financial institutions being targeted?
It seems hackers are tailoring their attacks to be industry-specific. Two methods – obfuscation and search engine optimization poisoning – are significantly more prevalent in the financial services industry than in other areas of business, although researchers have identified peaks and troughs in the popularity of certain types of attack. For instance, March 2015 saw a spike in the number of malicious redirection and obfuscation attacks, demonstrating that cyber criminals are creating campaigns that are harder to detect and analyse.
Distraction appears to be a common tactic. Hackers typically maintain a constant barrage of low-level attacks on the sector in a bid to occupy the time and attention of security professionals, while launching simultaneous targeted assaults.
Security professionals in other sectors shouldn’t take their eyes off the ball
Clearly, financial services companies are in the firing line when it comes to cyber attacks, but that’s not to say security professionals in other sectors have an easy ride.
Indeed, cyber security experts at KPMG have been quick to point out that cyber attackers simply don’t discriminate between one sector and another. While the research shows they have their favoured targets, other industries and organisations are still under constant threat.
George Quigley, financial services partner at KPMG’s cyber security team, said pan-sector attacks are becoming increasingly common. While they stem from one specific sector, such as financial services, they can quickly spread to others by capitalising on vulnerabilities throughout the supply chain or targeting partner organisations.
He explained: “Businesses need to take more of a pre-emptive approach to such attacks. Simulating attacks is one effective way of highlighting potential weak spots. Each organisation should also look to have someone committed to defending their network, rather than someone who merely adheres to prescribed standards.
“Companies need to recognise the threat, consider their specific threat/risk profile and put in place appropriate security measures to mitigate the risk.”