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WHY SECURE APIS ARE THE KEY TO FINANCIAL CONTROL

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APIs

Stefano Vaccino, Founder of Yapily

 

Consumers never owned their financial data. Banks controlled everything from how much money came into an account, to where that money was spent. While technology has already changed some of these processes, like the way we pay or move money around, when it comes to control over our data, the system has remained unchanged for decades. Until now.

Open Banking has disrupted the status quo. A decade on, and thanks to APIs that underpin Open Banking infrastructure, consumers now have more control over their financial data than ever before.

 

APIs

Stefano Vaccino

Handing back consumer control

Before Open Banking, consumers were at the mercy of the banks when it came to accessing their own data. There were only two ways to leverage the financial data in personal accounts to get better deals and access fundamental services. The first involved consumers physically printing or downloading a PDF of their bank statement to share with other banks or third party providers (TPPs).

The second saw banks and third parties utilise screen scraping. This meant users had to share their username and password to grant access to their bank account, to, for example, feed into money management tools or to access account information. Both options are long and cumbersome, but option two left consumers at risk of fraud and data breaches unless they remembered to change their passwords.

 

Reducing account fraud & data breaches

Many organisations have legacy IT systems which utilise screen scraping. This practice easily leaves systems open to data breaches. In fact, the Commonwealth Bank has reported that companies using screen scraping are at least two times more likely to experience account fraud. Not only is this bad for consumers, businesses can also be badly hit by the repercussions.

Thankfully, as of March 14th, a combination of SCA and PSD2 regulations mean that screen scraping has effectively been outlawed – significantly increasing the security of payments. The only secure way of accessing account information is through an API. Now, every individual payment requires a unique authorisation token, which once used, cannot be used again. Even tokens for recurring payments, such as standing orders for mortgage repayments, can be revoked and immediately rendered useless if suspicious activity is detected. This has greatly increased the security for consumers who make payments online.

 

Breaking down barriers with APIs

While in the UK, Open Banking was given a narrower focus than in the EU – only the nine largest banks were mandated to provide TPPs access to their services and data. However, it did specify a single, pre-defined API (Application Programming Interface) that was set as the standard for integration. While not as immediate as expected, banks did eventually make good progress in opening up these APIs, and it has led to the creation of new services. Moreover, APIs have been instrumental in handing back control of financial data to consumers.

 

Heading into an Open Finance future

Thanks to these APIs, we are seeing the global growth of Open Banking. Now, consumers can choose when to stay or go, as well as how much information they want to share, with whom and for how long. This is an important move given that as many as 15 million people in the UK could be using the wrong financial services product for them. In fact, around two million people miss out on the best interest rates and four million are denied credit each year.

Further, we’re not only in a world already reaping the benefits of Open Banking. We’re also moving towards a financial services industry powered by Open Finance, where laborious processes such as mortgage applications will be gone. Data that would have historically taken weeks or months to manually compile and send to the bank for review will be collated in minutes. Credit scores to ID verification, property affordability and residential checks will all be securely and seamlessly accessed thanks to open APIs. This will greatly reduce the lag time between application and acceptance or rejection – giving consumers greater control over the whole mortgage process.

In a world powered by Open Banking and Open Finance, consumers now have more control over their financial data than ever before. We can expect to see financial inclusion for the unbanked and a better experience for those with existing products and services.

 

Business

The Evolution and Challenges of Crypto Regulation

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CRACKING THE CRYPTO CODE

Cryptocurrency regulations are evolving quickly around the globe with authorities responding to developing risks professed by criminals exploiting the latest payment methods to mask and launder the profits from their crimes.

According to William Je Founder & CEO, Hamilton Investment Management Ltd, this has warranted the introduction of a more stringent level of due diligence by additional bodies to introduce preventative measures.

William Je Founder & CEO, Hamilton Investment Management Ltd explains: “The past ten years has seen several structural changes in Know Your Customer (KYC) and anti-money laundering (AML) regulations in both Europe and across the world. High-profile money laundering cases and the penetration of illegal monies into global markets have caught the attention of regulators.

“As regulators improve their understanding of these criminal practices, AML requirements have also been improved. However, these improvements have been a reactive process.”

To address the challenges of the blockchain ecosystem, the European Union has started to introduce financial regulations that further bolster the regulatory system in order to improve licensing models. Many member states are regulating crypto assets individually, and Germany is leading the way in being the first to regulate.

Je continues: “These national driven regulations clearly point to a future pathway for crypto companies, outlining the requirements for obtaining and maintaining a financial license from the regulator.

“Compliance, however, is to my mind essential as it not only boosts investor confidence but adds a necessary layer of protection to investors.”

As crypto evolves, so have regulatory bodies’ efforts to monitor, address and enforce restrictions. The most prominent is the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), which details guidance and determines best practices in anti-money-laundering practices and combating the financing of terrorism.

FATF Recommendations number 16, better known as the ‘travel rule’, which requires businesses to collect and store the personal data of the originators and the beneficiaries in blockchain transactions, is the most notable.

Je concludes: “What does this mean? In theory, access to this data will enable authorities to have better oversight and enforcement of crypto market regulations. In other words, they’ll know exactly who is doing exactly what.

As we have always argued – transparency is key. We need to regulate crypto as an asset class with efficacy, which necessitates legislation that is applicable specifically to digital assets and does not hinder the market.

The criminal financial trade which arguably encompasses money laundering, illegal weapons sales, human trafficking, is also international. Thus, cracking down on it is, out of necessity, an international effort.

The decentralised nature of blockchain, which runs contrary to the central-server standard we know and use nearly everywhere, presents a formidable challenge here. Rules and regulations for traditional financial institutions are being implemented wholescale into the crypto sector. We believe that this is arguably wrong footed as it ignores the innovation and uniqueness this asset class and its underlying technology entails.

Traditional forms of regulation from the fiat world do not reciprocally apply to every aspect of crypto nor to the fundamental nature of blockchain technology. However well-intentioned they may be, because these imposed regulations are built on an old system, they must be adapted and modified.”

 

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How bug bounty programs can help financial institutions be more secure

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Rodolphe Harand, Managing Director at YesWeHack

 

Financial services have been one of the most heavily targeted industries by cybercriminals for several years. One alarming stat from the Boston Consulting Group found these firms to be 300x as likely as other companies to be targeted by cyberattacks.

Furthermore, the pandemic has led to a significant increase in the number of cyberattacks targeting financial institutions (FIs), with around 74% experiencing a spike in threats linked to COVID-19.

With FIs holding some of the largest collections of sensitive and private data, it’s clear they will remain an attractive target for malicious actors, especially as any data stolen can be used for fraudulent activities. This leads to the reputational damage of the financial entity that was compromised and has a knock-on effect in terms of monetary and reputational damage to affected customers.

For CISOs at FIs, the conundrum faced is how do you protect intellectual and customer data, and ensure accountability and transparency for clients and stakeholders, at a time when the pandemic has created budget constraints. Research from BAE Systems found that last year alone, IT security, cybercrime as well as fraud and risk departments had their budgets cut by a third.

Below we look at how bug bounty programs can help to address these pressing issues.

 

Protecting valuable data

Protecting customer and intellectual data has always been a top priority for FIs. However, as opportunistic cybercriminals have a lot to gain by stealing this valuable data, there is a constant evolution of threats, which means FIs must stay on their toes. By deploying a bug bounty program, FIs can work with ethical hackers that have a wealth of experience and unique skills when it comes to identifying security weaknesses within a FI’s defence, thus helping to implement effective security measures to help prevent data breaches.

Building trust among various stakeholders such as customers, suppliers and investors is critical for achieving business goals. By deploying a bug bounty program, FIs send out a message that they care about protecting the security of the data of those they work with – which in turn can have a cascading effect resulting in better business performance.

 

Improving accountability  

For FIs to win customers and keep them happy, amidst the growing threat of neo banks and customer-centric fintech organisations, speed of innovation is crucial. As such, many FIs have adopted an agile approach to build, test, and release software faster to bring online and mobile banking solutions to market quicker. However, this can create frictions between development and security teams. Security mandates are deemed to be unnecessarily intrusive and a cause of delayed application development and deployment.

Yet, with DevOps teams needing to build and deploy applications faster than ever before, an epidemic of insecure applications has emerged. According to Osterman Research, 81% of developers admit to knowingly releasing vulnerable applications, while research from WhiteSource found 73% of developers are forced to cut corners and sacrifice security over speed.

With developers often not having the time, tools, skills, or motivation to write impeccably secure code, there is an evident need to provide developers with more support when it comes to building applications securely Fortunately, bug bounty programs can provide a “fact-based” financial implication of inherent security flaws within the process. This makes it possible to hold development teams and service providers accountable for creating or delivering insecure products, thus addressing inherent security gaps within the business units and helping to drive continuous improvement.

Moreover, security awareness and education of developments teams can be improved significantly for those developers that are directly involved with the management of vulnerability reports for their bug bounty programs. This is because, the mere fact of exchanging information with ethical hackers, or assimilating the thinking of a potential hacker and having proof of concepts of vulnerability exploitation on their application components, naturally accelerates consideration of security early in the development stage and provides ongoing learning.

 

Get more return on your investment

According to Gartner, 30% of CISOs effectiveness will be directly measured on their ability to create value for the business. When security budgets are challenged, CISOs need to demonstrate business value through initiatives designed to enhance efficiency whilst stretching the dollar.

This is where bug bounties can help tremendously. Compared to conventional penetration testing, bug bounty offers a fast, complete, and measurable return on your security investment, with businesses only paying out for successful discovery of vulnerabilities. Equally, businesses get access to hundreds of ethical hackers that can test their programs, each with their own unique skillsets as opposed to only one skilled researcher testing the network. This results-driven model ensures you pay for the vulnerabilities that pose a threat to your organisation and not for the time or effort it took to find them.

Bug bounty programs also deliver rapid vulnerability discovery across multiple attack surfaces. With this approach, organisations receive prioritised vulnerabilities and real-time remediation advice throughout the process to accelerate the discovery of, and solution to vulnerabilities.

Another appeal of bug bounties is that due to the continuous nature of testing, more vulnerabilities are found over time as opposed to pen-testing. This is key to financial institutions that require agility to keep up with the continuous roll-out and updates of applications.

 

The cornerstone to a successful security programme

The risk posed to financial institutions by cyber threats will only continue, as evidenced by the number of data breaches seen in recent times. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated these risks, especially with almost all FIs having needed to shift to a remote working environment – which has only widened the attack landscape.

For FIs, a bug bounty program should be considered a fundamental cornerstone of any security strategy, with it being a modern-day cybersecurity solution that is well-equipped to tackle the immediate security challenges they face. In doing so, FIs will not only prove to customers and stakeholders their commitment to data protection and security but this will also be help them to avoid the monetary damages that could be imposed by regulators if a breach was to take place.

 

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