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HOW FINANCIAL SERVICES CAN ACHIEVE ZERO TRUST

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By Ian Jennings, Managing Director, BlueFort Security

 

Financial data is one of the most prized targets for cyber criminals.  This makes any organisation collecting, processing and storing financial data on any scale a target for attackers.  Even relatively simple attacks – as in the case of the distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack against the New Zealand stock exchange – can take operations down completely.  However, for large financial services firms the threat against this data is growing larger, more complex and increasingly sophisticated by the day.

The cyber threat landscape has changed dramatically over the course of the pandemic and many UK financial services firms have felt the squeeze.  A recent report from the Ponemon Institute commissioned by Keeper Security revealed the majority of organisations in the UK financial sector suffered cyber-attacks in 2020 – driven primarily by attackers targeting employees working remotely.  Security leaders in these organisations fear the worst – 41% are concerned remote workers are putting their organisation at risk of suffering a significant data breach.

 

Thinking strategically with Zero Trust

There’s no doubt the massive shift to remote work has created new vulnerabilities for criminals to exploit, but IT security teams do have a strategy available that will help counter these exploits: Zero Trust.

A Zero Trust strategy works by limiting privileges and access for users and devices until their identity and legitimacy can be verified first – even if they are already on the network.  Rather than assuming trust for anything that has successfully logged onto the network, a Zero Trust strategy verifies and re-verifies users and devices each time they attempt to access different parts of the network.

A well-implemented Zero Trust strategy offers a layer (or, in reality, multiple layers) of additional security against many types of attack.  Brian Kime, Senior Analyst at Forrester, recently pointed out the importance of looking at Zero Trust in response to the ransomware attack on the US Colonial Pipeline.  Discussing the fragility of most IT systems in the face of these attacks, Kime explains that – despite myths – a Zero Trust strategy is neither costly nor complex to deploy.

 

The net result of remote working

Security concerns around remote working in the UK financial sector are well-founded, given the speed at which nearly all organisations in the sector were required to deploy a remote workforce and the pressure IT teams were under to maintain operations.  Recent Trend Micro research revealed that remote workers often engage in more risky behaviour at home than when they’re at the office.  Combine this with a surge in COVID-19 phishing emails and a swathe of shared or unsecured personal devices and you have a perfect storm of risk.

The net result today for many UK financial organisations is a huge concern for malware-infected endpoint and IoT devices, insecure network access and compromised credentials leading to identity-based attacks.  Indeed, the 2020 Zero Trust Endpoint and IoT Security report from Pulse Secure – which explored how enterprises are advancing Zero Trust endpoint and IoT security capabilities within their individual organisation – found that 72% of organisations experienced an increase to significant increase in endpoint and IoT security due to workforce mobility and remote workplace flexibility.

 

It’s all about the data

A Zero Trust approach allows an organisation to defend itself against identity-based attacks.  In its simplest form, it acts as a layered security approach that assumes an attacker will breach the corporate network.  Instead of prevention, a Zero Trust architecture acts as a guardian against lateral movement once an attacker is inside the corporate network.  When deploying a visibility and access control strategy like Zero Trust, financial services organisations should consider three key building blocks:

  1. Validation – of users and their devices’ security posture
  2. Control – of access through granular policy enforcement
  3. Protecting and encrypting data transactions

In the new mobile world of work – with many employees working remotely – it is crucial that IT security teams focus on the data.  Data moves with endpoints and this makes them attractive targets for cyberattacks.  Security policy, therefore, must move with users and data and should not be tied to a particular location.  Just as endpoint security products secure and collect data on the activity that occurs on endpoints, network security products do the same for networks.  To effectively combat advanced threats, both need to work together.  An integrated approach that combines endpoint and network security is the only way to achieve end-to-end protection across your entire security architecture.

 

And finally: get your users on board

User experience can often fall far down the priority list when it comes to IT security, but it should be seen as a crucial factor in long-term security posture.  A Zero Trust strategy should incorporate a positive user experience while it enforces policy compliance across employees, guests and third-party users – regardless of location, device type, or device ownership.  Users enjoy greater productivity and the freedom to work anywhere without sacrificing access to authorised network resources and applications.

A Zero Trust strategy may seem like an unachievable goal, but it isn’t.  Fundamentally, it’s about achieving a state of continuous verification and authentication throughout the network, with centralised policy enforcement and a seamless experience for users.  This ensures any device – whether that’s a company-issued laptop, an employee’s personal tablet or a stray IoT device – can only connect to authorised applications on the corporate network in a compliant manner.  In the case of attack, Zero Trust can help contain the breach, limit the damage and significantly speed up an organisation’s path to recovery.

 

Finance

HOW TO TELL IF YOU’RE OVERPAYING TAXES

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HOW TO TELL IF YOU’RE OVERPAYING TAXES

Paying taxes is a necessary act in our world, and with good reason. Our governments use taxes to build the infrastructure we use, improve our children’s education, and fund the societal safety nets we all end up needing at least once in our lives, like Social Security, unemployment insurance, and welfare.

There’s a difference between paying your fair share and paying too much because that money could be used to better your situation instead of sitting in a government account. But how do you know whether you’re paying too much and what can you do about it? We’ve got a few tips below.

 

The easiest way to tell if you’re overpaying: Do you get a refund every year?

Does your yearly tax filing fill you with a sense of excitement because of the refund you’ll receive? Unfortunately, that excitement is a clear sign you’re paying too much in taxes.

Try to see your taxes like a loan you give to the IRS. If you pay too much, then you’ve given them above and beyond your fair share, interest-free. Yes, you get it back by April (if you file on time and there’s not an extension for a global pandemic) of the following year, but you’ve lost the opportunity to make that money work for you by either accruing interest, getting rid of debt, or improving your lifestyle. This is known as “opportunity cost” and removing as much of it as possible is a critical part of having a solid financial plan.

Balancing how much you pay in taxes works both ways. Underpaying taxes amounts to an interest-free loan from the IRS to you that will need to be paid in full by Tax Day on April 15. If you can land into a sweet spot where you owe $0 and are refunded a trivial amount, then you’ve adjusted your withholdings correctly. It’s a tricky situation to get just right, though, so let’s cover a few adjustments you can make.

 

How to adjust the amount of taxes withheld from your paycheck

Taxes in the U.S. are complicated, so don’t feel bad if you’re just now realizing you’ve been overpaying.

If you have an employer, the first step is to figure out which department handles your payroll and taxes. Typically this will be HR, though it can fall on the accounting department, too. You can update your withholdings at any time, though it’s better to adjust it when new life circumstances come up. These include:

  • Getting married or divorced
  • Having a child, either from birth or adoption
  • Changes in income

To adjust withholdings, you’ll submit a new W-4 that includes your updated tax situation. You shouldn’t need to send any additional verification, but check with the payroll department to see what the latest requirements from the IRS look like.

 

What to do after you’ve adjusted your withholdings

If you’re able to adjust your withholdings, you should see a bigger paycheck after your next pay period. While it can be exciting to have more money coming in, it’s important you use this opportunity to get into a better financial situation. Consider putting that “extra” money toward paying down your debt or putting it into a retirement account. Using that new infusion of cash responsibly will not only help your financial situation now but ensure you have a stable source of income in retirement, too.

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Finance

WHY THE EXPLOSION IN LOCAL RETAIL DEMANDS NEW PAYMENT METHODS

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Kasper Enggaard Krog, CEO at mobile payment and business technology firm, Vibrant, explains why micro businesses are being badly let down by contactless payment providers while local retail has boomed.

 

Before the pandemic, between 40[i] and 47[ii] per cent of micro businesses didn’t accept card payments, depending which statistics you prefer. This includes everything from corner shops to cafes and builders to barbers. They relied on cash, cheque, or where suitable, perhaps the laborious process of an invoice and bank transfer.

This is despite there being 6 billion contactless cards in the world and 47 per cent of people preferring to pay with one when at a physical point of sale[iii]. At first glance, it might seem that these small traders were cutting their noses off to spite their faces. Customers wanted to pay them with cards, why wouldn’t they just allow them to do so?

 

What was stopping merchants?

The answer is simple. Because for the smallest of merchants, accepting a card payment has always led to expensive ongoing fees, results in slow settlements, requires admin and calls for an up-front investment in cumbersome and basic technology.

It won’t be news to anyone in the industry that the recurring costs all add up. Transaction fees are typically between 1 per cent and 3 per cent, not to mention authorisation fees and merchant service charges[iv]. A credit card reader might be about £20 and the same for a receipt printer. This all eats into profit, not to mention time.

 

Kasper Enggaard Krog

The pandemic changed it all

Yet the pandemic has forced micro businesses to reassess their reticence to take card payments. Two reasons are behind this. Firstly, there has been an explosion in people shopping where they live. When lockdowns swept across Europe, it became hard to get to larger retailers. Local merchants of all sorts became a lifeline[v].

Not only that, but many people were forced to reconnect to their communities and realised they enjoyed shopping on their street and wanted to support independent businesses. The data proves this. According to research, the convenience store sector grew by 6 per cent in 2020[vi].

This led to the second factor, contactless payments were considered safer than handling cards or cash. The overall impact of more shoppers and the threat of infection led to a boom in contactless payments. In fact, the number of purchases made in May 2021 via contactless technology doubled compared with the same month a year earlier and was up 50 per cent on May 2019[vii].

 

Woefully underserved

This shift to accepting card payments among the smallest of businesses should be applauded. There are currently £2.25 trillion in cash and cheque payments made in Europe[viii]. They’re now opening themselves up to this huge market.

This is undoubtedly good for consumers and merchants alike. But it does beg the question, why did it take a pandemic to cause the change? Why did they have to face the prospect of potential infection or financial ruin to make the move?

Simple, the existing model is broken. The barriers to accepting card payments remain – high cost, poor tech and slow settlements – but they’ve been overcome through necessity rather than benefit. These businesses remain woefully underserved yet have been forced to accept what is on offer. There must be another way.

And there is. For the first time, the technology now exists for market traders, stall holders, car washes – any number of micro businesses – to take contactless payments using only their phone. No additional tech. No annoying dongles or readers that take up space and will ultimately add to the vast rubbish bin of obsolete, single-function peripheries. These will soon join calculators, MP3 players and digital cameras.

Furthermore, this tech not only takes payments, but within months is expected to allow merchants to run their whole business on their phone. They will be able to add product lists, inventory details, accounting tools and much more. It’s like a mini enterprise resource management system for the tiniest of firms. And the fees are transparent, predictable, lower than the market rate and don’t have binding contracts. Importantly, it also has the backing of Visa – and Vibrant is leading the roll-out.

The business is proud to do so and sees a huge opportunity. Micro businesses are now worth £1.85 trillion to the European economy[ix]. Their importance will grow, and they need the payments sector to take note of their needs and do better. It’s no longer acceptable to foist poor products and services upon them and allow the pandemic to drive change rather than innovation.

The explosion in local retail demands new payment methods – and they must be made available. In many ways, it’s a scandal that it took a pandemic to force change.

 

[i] 40% of the UK’s micro businesses do not accept card payments
[ii] Visa data
[iii] 40% of the UK’s micro businesses do not accept card payments
[iv] Credit card processing fees
[v] Local heroes: The retailers benefiting from the rise of localism
[vi] Lumina Intelligence UK Grocery Data Index for 2020
[vii] Contactless payments dominated as lockdowns eased
[viii] Visa data
[ix] Visa data

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