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A rising number of banks and financial institutions are shifting towards online procedures & transactions. With this, cyber shift, rising cyberattacks on banks and financial institutes have become a major problem for organizations and individuals alike.

Each day, cybercriminals are relentlessly hunting for new exploits to seize any assets they can get their hands on virtually.

The situation may sound horrifying, but there are ways to protect yourself if you are involved in online banking or other financial institutions. In today’s article, we will discuss several ways cyberattacks are targeting banks and financial institutions virtually. We will also discuss 20 ways to prevent these attacks.

Current Threat Landscape

     

Cyberattacks on banks and financial services may seem obvious as they deal with a copious amount of money. However, it’s not that simple. Most cybercriminals value sensitive personal and organizational data more than money, as these data have high demand on the black market.

Financial services are subjected to cyberattacks 300 times more than any other services or organizations operating in the industry. These attacks also cost financial institutions $18 million to individual companies as opposed to $12 million to other companies doing business in the industry, according to Forbes.

The difference is pretty obvious. As you can see, the financial industry is the most preferred target for cybercriminals to exploit when compared to the general industry.

As mentioned before, the motivations behind the increasing cyberattacks on banks and financial services revolve around data. Data theft, data sabotage, and direct financial theft are some of the most common types of attacks.

Since financial services deal with both money and sensitive user data, they become goldmines for cybercriminals. After data theft, cybercriminals use it to monitor their target individuals or organizations and exploit that data.

What’s more alarming is that these data are in high demand in the black market. Individuals, organizations, nations, and international crime syndicates all get involved in acquiring these leaked/stolen data to see if they can exploit these data to their favor.

Common Cyber Attacks on Banks and Financial Institutions

Stealing data from financial institutions is never an easy task. However, a combination of unpatched vulnerabilities combined with cybercriminals employing sophisticated attacks can make it easier for them to exploit those vulnerabilities. Here are some common cyberattacks hackers use on banks and financial institutions:

Malware & ransomware

Let’s start with the basic. Malware and ransomware are types of malicious software that infect computers and other devices, performing various actions like stealing data, encrypting files without the users’ permission, spying on users, or damaging files/systems entirely. Malware and ransomware attacks can happen through email attachments, web downloads, or network connections.

Automated Teller Machine (ATM) Attacks

ATM attacks can involve physical tampering, malware infection, or network intrusion. Hackers would sometimes target ATMs or their networks, forcing them to dispense cash without authorization. They can also compromise user data with ATM skimming: devices and techniques to capture cardholder information at ATMs. Skimming devices can be placed on ATM card slots or keypads to collect card details and PINs, which can then be used to create counterfeit cards or perform fraudulent transactions.

SS7 Attacks

Signaling System 7 (SS7) is a protocol used in the global telecommunication network. SS7 attack is a type of cyberattack that exploits the vulnerabilities in the SS7 protocol. In an SS7 attack, the attackers can intercept and manipulate signaling messages, allowing them to eavesdrop the communications, redirect or intercept SMS messages, and track the location of targeted individuals without their knowledge or consent.

An attacker can also manipulate call/message routing, spoof caller IDs, bypass two-factor authentication, and potentially compromise the privacy and security of individuals and organizations.

Mobile Banking Attacks

These attacks target mobile banking applications or devices, attempting to steal sensitive data such as login information, banking details, or credit card information. Mobile banking attacks can involve phishing, malware, fake apps, or SIM swapping.

DDoS Attacks

DDoS attacks overwhelm the target’s network or servers with a large amount of traffic or requests, making them staggered or unavailable for legitimate users. DDoS attacks can affect the availability and performance of financial services and applications. As this downtime is crucial for a bank or financial institution, sometimes the organization ends up meeting a criminal’s payment demand to get rid of the situation.

Web Application Attacks

These attacks target web-facing applications such as online banking portals or payment gateways. Web application attacks can exploit vulnerabilities in the application code, logic, or configuration to compromise the integrity and data functionality of the applications.

Spam and Phishing Attacks

These are email-based attacks that try to trick the recipient into visiting a malicious website, opening an infected attachment, or installing malicious software. Hackers do it steal sensitive data such as login credentials, banking details, or credit card information.

Insider Breach

Insider breaches occur when an employee or someone with authorized access exposes sensitive information, both intentionally or unintentionally. This can involve employee misconduct, negligence, or compromised credentials. Insiders may also abuse their privileges sometimes to steal data or sell to external actors.

Third-Party Breach

Financial institutions work with many third-party vendors and partners who may have access to sensitive organizational data. A third-party breach happens when the systems or databases of these external entities are compromised, leading to the exposure of customer or financial information.

System Misconfiguration

Misconfigurations in banking systems, networks, or databases can create security vulnerabilities that hackers can exploit. These misconfigurations include weak passwords, unpatched software, improper access controls, or insecure network configurations.

Physical Breach

Physical breaches involve unauthorized access to physical premises, such as data centers, server rooms, or backup storage facilities. Attackers may gain physical access to steal hardware, storage devices, or sensitive documents containing confidential data.

Social Engineering

Social engineering attacks work by manipulating individuals into divulging confidential information or performing actions that may compromise organizational security. This can include techniques like impersonation, pretexting, or phishing to trick bank employees or customers into revealing sensitive data.

Fingerprint Data Stealing and Anti-Fraud Bypassing

Cybercriminals are increasingly targeting financial institutions' anti-fraud systems, investing significant resources in an attempt to crack them. Additionally, since just gaining access to usernames and passwords is not enough, cybercriminals are seeking access to fingerprints that are necessary to exploit these systems. One example is the Genesis underground market, an invitation-only marketplace that offers various profiles containing browser fingerprints, website logins, passwords, and credit card information. Utilizing this data, cybercriminals can easily impersonate legitimate users worldwide and engage in various illegal activities while avoiding detection.

Exploiting Multi-Factor Authentication

While we consider multi-factor authentication as the safest method of protecting data, cybercriminals have found ways to exploit it. For instance, they exploit vulnerabilities in remote banking apps and systems to bypass system-integrated one-time passcodes (OTPs) that are used for extra security. Additionally, they employ social engineering techniques to exploit end-users, compromising their financial information. After gaining access to a user’s account, hackers can infiltrate a banking portal, making their intrusion into a financial institution’s core systems, enabling them to compromise both the user and the financial institution.

Credential Stuffing

Credential stuffing is another type of cyber-attack on financial services. Cybercriminals exploit users’ data to gain unauthorized access to the system. They acquire sensitive information of customers such as user IDs, login credentials, and credit card details from financial institutions. Cybercriminals can access user accounts and infiltrate a financial institution’s IT infrastructure using these credentials, engaging in illegal activities such as stealing money from multiple accounts and trading financial data in the black market.

Cloud Service Compromise

Every modern institution is shifting its workload to cloud services to protect its business and customers. However, cloud infrastructure is not 100% hack-proof. As cloud services are introduced for public use, it becomes an easy target for hackers, making it one of the most occurring cyberattacks on financial services.

IoT Compromise

Most cyber-attacks on financial institutions result from software vulnerabilities. However, with the widespread adoption of the Internet of Things (IoT), cybercriminals have found a new key target to exploit. Even simple IoT devices like fingerprint scanners, card readers, or office routers connected to unsecure networks can pose a significant threat to the overall security infrastructure of an organization.

Additionally, most employees are unaware of the vulnerabilities of their daily used IoT devices. Most of the time these devices lack the same security measures as smartphones or computers. And cybercriminals can quickly gain unauthorized access to financial accounts and other IT infrastructure by exploiting these IoT devices.

Spear Phishing

Spear phishing is a common scam where the sender impersonates a trusted person from an organization. The perpetrator requests confidential information such as login credentials or password reset links. The attackers make their emails appear legitimate, coming from someone known and trusted, expressing concern for your safety. Falling into these traps compromises your sensitive information. Once the attackers acquire this information, they can easily infiltrate an organization’s network and launch attacks on its website or IT infrastructure.

Social Media Attacks

Cybercriminals can sometimes create fake social media pages or profiles posing as authentic social media representatives of an organization. Most of these organizations may not even have any existing social media accounts, and people unaware of that information may end up communicating with these fake pages or profiles and providing sensitive account information.

Brute Force Attacks

Cybercriminals systematically try various combinations of usernames and passwords to gain unauthorized access to systems or accounts. Weak or easily guessable passwords are particularly vulnerable to brute-force attacks.

Zero-Day Exploits

Zero-day exploits pose a significant threat to banks and financial institutions by exploiting undiscovered vulnerabilities in software. These exploits allow unauthorized access, compromise sensitive data, and disrupt operations to mitigate the risks.

How to Prevent Cyber Attacks on Banks and Financial Institutions

Personal awareness is the biggest defense against the endless onslaught of cybersecurity risks. We put together the top 20 ideas to protect against cyber attacks on banks

  • Check If You’ve Already Been a Victim of A Data Breach
  • Check Password Strength
  • Use A Password Manager
  • Trust No One On Emails
  • Secure All Devices
  • Implement Security Hygiene
  • Perform Risk Assessments
  • Develop Strong Cybersecurity Policies
  • Update Both Software and Hardware
  • Train Your Employees
  • Place Endpoint Protection
  • Install Necessary Firewalls
  • Backup Your Data Regularly
  • Implement Access Controls
  • Secure Wi-Fi
  • Secure Employee Accounts
  • Keep A Disaster Recovery Plan At Hand
  • Use Data Encryption
  • Use Multi-Factor Authentication
  • Increase Customer Awareness

Check If You’ve Already Been Victim of A Data Breach

If your organization’s website has already been victim to a cyberattack, chances are that all your systems are still vulnerable. Some websites can check if your server is still vulnerable to cyberattacks.

A popular website for checking is haveibeenpwned.com. Here, you can detect parts of your website that have already been compromised, and fix them accordingly.

Check Password Strength

When setting a new password, don’t go for obvious passwords just because they are easier to remember. The first thing any hacker does is try out the most common information about you as the password, such as your birthdate, name, or something as simple as “password”.

You can check the strength of your password at howsecureismypassword.net. You don’t exactly have to type in your original password on the site, use something similar so you can estimate how strong your password is.

Whenever you’re choosing a password, remember to make the password as long or complicated as possible. A strong, standard password is at least 12 characters long that contains numbers and special symbols.

Use A Password Manager

In case you’re struggling with remembering complicated passwords or coming up with strong passwords in the first place, a password manager is a worthy investment.

Password managers can generate random strong passwords, as well as remember and manage them for you so that they don’t fall into the wrong hands.

 

   

Trust No One On Emails

Several major cyber attacks in the past have been done with emails. 2 great examples of these attacks are 1. The “Love Bug” attack, 2. “WannaCry” attack.

Be very careful when opening emails from unknown sources. Often these emails contain harmful attachments (malware, spyware, etc) and download themselves onto whatever device opens these emails.

If even one of the employees of the organization opens such a mail, the entire organization can be in jeopardy. The safe practice here is to only open emails from previously known/ trusted email addresses, along with putting unknown emails with attachments in the trash.

Another method, which can seem a bit cumbersome but is relatively safer, is to manually type the URL in the address bar instead of clicking on any redirected link.

Sometimes, these links redirect to where the hacker wants you to go, rather than their original destination. Unless these links are properly masked, it’s easy to tell just by looking.

Secure All Mobile Devices

Any employee of the bank can have their devices stolen, lost, or misplaced. These devices can be used to gain access to the network by using information present in said devices. Here are a few ways you can secure your mobile devices:

  • Setting unique gestures, or fingerprint locks
  • Setting passwords that are required before installing any application
  • Leaving Bluetooth switched off unless necessary. Otherwise, keep it hidden and disable automatic connections with other devices.
  • Enabling remote wipe functionalities if the device supports it.

Implement Security Hygiene

Security hygiene is an inexpensive practice that you should implement at your bank. These practices can be as simple as regularly updating the software or backing up your data.

There are many high-tech tools out there that can assist in the case of a large-scale cyberattack. But these tools come with a hefty price tag, and these tools are tailor-made for cybersecurity experts.

Instead of wasting money on fancy tools, spend the money instead to provide incentives to employees for maintaining a safe and secure work environment.

Perform Risk Assessments

Whether your financial institution is new or old and established, a vulnerability assessment for your servers is always a good plan. Technology is ever-changing, and new exploits are being discovered every single day.

When you run a risk assessment on your company server, you become aware of the security loopholes that are currently existing within your system and plan accordingly.

If you need risk assessment services, TechForing is ready to provide all the help you need to secure your financial institution.

Develop Strong Cybersecurity Policies

For every company, a security policy defines the entire infrastructure within a standard secure behavior. An ideal security policy is always in-depth, covering all the possible landscapes of security for the organization it’s present in.

When creating/ updating cybersecurity policy for a bank, always prioritize the sectors that require the most protection, especially sectors regarding client information.

Each sector of information should be thoroughly reviewed by a team of security experts to decide on the appropriate measure of security for said information.

Update Both Software and Hardware

When your software or hardware isn’t up to date, you are leaving your system vulnerable to different forms of attacks via security loopholes.

Software or hardware that is no longer supported by their developers contains security gaps that current malware can easily invade and infect. To keep your organization safe, make sure all the devices present in your company are thoroughly updated.

If the current hardware doesn’t support the latest update, it’s best to acquire the latest hardware to support all sorts of security updates.

Train Your Employees

One of the most common methods used by attackers when targeting any organization is to target employees. A careless employee can often pave the way for a devastating blow of cybercrime.

The most common method of exploiting any employee is through the phishing method. Any attacker can pretend to be an individual from upper management and demand access to important and confidential documents.

Here are a few tips that can keep your employees safe and in turn, your company:

  • Check each link before clicking them
  • When getting requests for access to certain files, confirm the request with the individual personally before complying
  • Check the email address of the received mail, and verify if the mail is from the same individual they are claiming to be

   

Place Endpoint Protection

Endpoint protection is for networks that create a remote bridge between multiple devices. If the bridge is compromised, the devices connected to the bridge can be exploited as well.

There is software that provides endpoint protection, and investing in one of these can be a wise choice.

Install Necessary Firewalls

Hackers are finding new ways to execute new data breach methods every day, and these breach methods can penetrate any kind of firewall. Still, a fully updated network firewall can significantly reduce the risks and damages of a large-scale attack.

A firewall can block any primary method of attack instantly, provided the firewall is well-configured and implemented appropriately.

Backup Your Data Regularly

Cyber attacks are not the only risks that any institute faces. Hardware can fail anytime, corrupting all the data that is presently stored on the company server. To avoid such incidents, creating a schedule for creating data backups is a great practice.

Loss of data can lead to financial loss, as well as loss of credibility and in terms, loss of clientele.

Implement Access Controls

The easiest way to infiltrate any organization is from the inside. And who better to do it than an employee who has more access than he logically should?

This can be a major concern. The human mind is completely unpredictable, and any employee can go rogue at any time, despite being provided with the best working environment.

To prevent such unfortunate mishaps, implement strict access controls on all the possible sectors so that only selected individuals have access to data that they need to work with. Strict access controls decrease the chances of data leakage to unauthorized or unwanted third parties.

Secure Your Wi-Fi Network

Who doesn’t have wifi enabled device in 2022? Though it may sound fancy and convenient, it also opens the door to a whole new set of trouble.

When your devices are constantly connected to the internet, multiple devices that you own are constantly connected.

If even one of these devices gets infected, there is no doubt that the infection will slowly spread to the other devices as well, and your system will be compromised in no time. All this is possible simply by exploiting the insecure wifi network to gain access to your mobile devices.

The best course of action here is not only to secure the wifi network but also to hide the network so that only employees of the organization can be provided selective access to minimize the chances of data leakage.

It may seem insignificant to try and minimize wifi access when your office has hundreds of employees, but it’s worth it in the long run.

Secure Employee Accounts

Within the bank’s system, every employee should have their accounts, where they contain and work on tasks and clients each has been assigned. But most of the time, these employee accounts get hijacked by a malicious third party, and sensitive information falls into the wrong hands.

Creating separate logins is a great way to reduce the chances of an account hijack. When every employee is allotted a unique set of login credentials, it creates a secure environment with improved usability.

Keep A Disaster Recovery Plan At Hand

A security breach can happen at any time that can devastate a business. This event can be considered a disaster. A disaster can prevent your business from performing optimally or even can shut it down temporarily.

In the case of such a disaster, you must have a contingency plan in action to prevent or reduce downtime of your systems and continue your business operations normally.

A well-planned and highly detailed disaster recovery plan can reduce data loss and minimize business downtime when a cyberattack takes place. That alone makes the disaster recovery plan a must-have item.

Use Data Encryption

Data is the most essential asset for any company. As a result, it’s the most high-value target for hackers and other malicious entities. To keep your data safe from prying hands, it’s best to apply data encryption on all your systems.

When you encrypt any data, you are provided with a unique decryption key, and only personnel with the key can access said data. That way, when a third party tries to access your data they cannot use the data, since it’s inaccessible without the decryption key.

When encrypting data, make sure not to lose or misplace your decryption key, like writing it on a piece of paper and then losing it. Hackers are always on the hunt for decryption keys similar to these, which they can trace back to the data cache that it unlocks and access that data.

Encryption can help you keep all your digital assets secured, as well as keep your clientele information completely confidential.