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Main Factors Accelerating API Security Risks in Financial Services

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By: Yaniv Balmas, VP of research at Salt Security

 

The API ecosystem is exploding and nowhere has API delivery accelerated as much or as fast as in financial services. Leveraging APIs, financial services organisations can innovate and quickly bring to market unique customer experiences and services. While more than three-fourths of software developers say API development is or will be a top business priority, the figure is even higher in financial services – topping all other industries at more than 80%.

Because successful attacks are so lucrative against financial institutions, they have always been a top target. The growth of the API economy has made the financial sector an even bigger target, which is why minimising API security risks has become the top priority.

Four factors are driving the urgent need for better API security in financial services:

  • API usage in financial services is increasing
  • API attacks threaten digital transformation initiatives
  • API security incidents hurt customer trust
  • Traditional security solutions don’t protect APIs

API Usage Will Increase Even More

In financial services, the high-growth trajectory of APIs will continue to rise. With each use case and new service, the number of APIs in a typical financial services company grows ever higher.

APIs provide the required data connection to support today’s mobile financial applications and peer-to-peer payment systems. APIs are at the center of open banking. APIs enable financial services companies to standardise how they connect and exchange data, allowing consumer financial information to be instantly shared across organizations and third-party service providers. With different partners and technology suppliers, API connections are being continuously added to the financial ecosystem.

For financial services, that means even more APIs and a continuously growing attack surface that must be adequately protected.

API Attacks Threaten Key Business Initiatives

Open banking gives consumers more choices and convenience to address their financial needs. It also increases competition across the financial services industry and generates new revenue avenues. In addition, open banking provides more traditional financial institutions the opportunity to compete with faster-moving fintech companies.

Moreover, in financial services, Covid has hastened the adoption of digital transformation, including mobile and remote banking. In a pandemic-mandated stay at home world, consumers made their needs clear. They want integrated services and the ability to connect their financial lives when and where they desire. This requires banks and other finance companies to roll out new capabilities or risk becoming obsolete and losing customers and revenue.

Digitalisation has become a critical business initiative and is increasingly important in financial services. However, without the ability to protect the data being used within these services, financial organisations lose that opportunity entirely. Financial data breaches can cost the business in lost revenue from new opportunities and cause irreparable harm to an organisation’s brand.

Just a single API attack has the potential to wipe out all the gains made from an organisation’s digital transformation.

API Security Incidents Damage Consumer Trust

In financial services, the costs of lost trust can be high. Salt Labs, the research arm of Salt Security, provides ongoing API vulnerability research. In its latest report, Salt Labs uncovered a server-side request forgery (SSRF) flaw on a large fintech platform that provides a wide range of digital banking services to hundreds of banks and millions of customers.

The vulnerability had the potential to compromise every user account and transaction data served by its customer banks. Imagine the leaking of customers’ banking details and financial transactions and users’ personal data or, worse, unauthorised funds transfers into the attackers’ bank accounts.

None of these nightmares came to be, because Salt Labs found the problem before a bad actor did, and all issues have been remediated. But this type of exploit, had it occurred, would have likely caused irreparable reputational damage – not to mention financial losses, theft, and fraud.

The nature of financial services applications is to exchange sensitive financial and customer data, making APIs a high-stakes asset requiring protection.

Traditional Solutions Don’t Deliver Adequate API Protection

Most financial services companies have sophisticated runtime security stacks with multiple layers of security tools, such as bot mitigation, WAFs, and API gateways. These traditional tools provide foundational security capabilities and protection for traditional applications; however, they lack the context needed to identify and stop attacks that target the unique logic of each API.

Attacker activity looks like normal API traffic to traditional tools, such as WAFs, API gateways and other proxy-based solutions. The architecture limits them to inspecting transactions one at a time, in isolation, and beyond rate-limiting. They also depend on signatures to detect well-known attack patterns. If the transaction does not match a known attack signature, the WAF will send it through. Since each API is unique with unique vulnerabilities, signatures cannot help prevent API attacks.

API security requires big data to capture all API traffic and artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to continuously analyse the large volumes of API traffic. Without continuous analysis of API traffic, you cannot understand normal behaviour for each unique API and gain the context required to pinpoint attackers.

In addition, while open banking defines standards around how APIs should be structured to enable predictable integrations and communications, open banking provides no standard to meet the majority of API security requirements. Moreover, basic controls, such as authentication, authorisation, and encryption, fall short of meeting API security challenges.

API Security at the Forefront for Financial Services

APIs have become essential for financial services to meet changing consumer expectations and innovate to remain competitive. At the same time, APIs are now the most frequent attack vector. In the past 12 months, 95% of organisations experienced an API security incident, and API attack traffic grew 681% – more than twice as fast as overall API usage traffic.

Therefore, financial services organisations must put API security at the forefront to protect this growing attack surface. To do so requires dedicated API security tooling for the entire API lifecycle that provides continuous attack surface visibility, early attack prevention, and automated insights for continuous API improvement.

Finance

astrantiaPay Selects SaaScada to Enrich Swiss Landscape of Business Payments and Fill Market Gap

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Swiss financial firm, astrantiaPay, to use SaaScada’s cloud-native core banking engine to simplify cross-border payments for SMEs and facilitate international trade and services across the old and new economies

 Cloud-native core banking engine, SaaScada, today announced it was selected by astrantiaPay to launch a Swiss point of contact for international businesses looking to open and run corporate bank accounts in Switzerland. Once regulatory approval is in place, astrantiaPay will provide mission-critical payment services to sophisticated Swiss, European, and global companies.

“Promoting SMEs is high on the agenda of policymakers, but the reality is very different when dealing directly with banks. In fact, financial institutions often show little or no appetite for low-margin, labour-intensive company accounts with regular cross-border payments”, explains Lukas Wissner, CEO of astrantiaPay. “As a result, opening and maintaining corporate bank accounts can become a complex and costly procedure, posing a real challenge for Swiss and European start-ups and established businesses. This can hinder growth, and sometimes even threaten a company’s existence. Ultimately, corporate bank accounts with a foreign nexus are an underserved niche segment in the Swiss financial ecosystem which is historically dominated by asset managers and private banking.”

SaaScada is an industry-proven core banking system that unlocks trapped customer value, mitigates risk, and drives real-time data insights. It was founded from a desire to provide first-class financial services capabilities for everyone. SaaScada’s configurable product features and transactional ledgers can be connected to any payment scheme, gateway, channel, or FX provider. Its event-driven architecture will provide astrantiaPay with a real-time stream of events for each company account.

“SaaScada’s experience and deep understanding of how to execute a bank in the Swiss financial and regulatory landscape convinced us,” concludes Lukas Wissner. “Looking back, SaaScada was the right starting point on our integration journey, as its experienced team of programmers readily enable open API connections to virtually any data source and endpoint; be it software tools for onboarding, client relationship management (CRM) and transaction monitoring (TM), or accounting systems, payment aggregators and international correspondent banks. Leveraging SaaScada’s proficiency and infrastructure has helped us create an organic whole.”

“Lukas Wissner and the team at astrantiaPay have a distinct vision to make bank account opening simpler for international SMEs,” explains Nelson Wootton, Co-Founder and CEO at SaaScada. “SaaScada is delighted to support astrantiaPay in driving financial inclusivity for its customers, solving complex compliance challenges, and enabling SMEs to thrive.”

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Banking

How Biometric Payments Are Tackling Financial Exclusion

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By Catharina Eklof, CCO, IDEX Biometrics

We are moving closer to a cashless society: 89% of payments in the UK are contactless and, globally, contactless payment transaction values are set to surpass $10 trillion by 2027. Ease, convenience, security, and inclusion have accelerated the transition away from cash. However, many of today’s current payment solutions are leaving entire cross sections of society behind: including the most vulnerable, underserved, and unbanked populations.

Developments in the payment sector over the past decade still aren’t a perfect fit for all. Those suffering from dementia, literacy challenges, or impaired vision can find current payment methods – with a PIN to remember – extremely challenging. Financial inclusion requires us to make payments accessible to all demographics. Though the financially excluded represent minorities, they account for an estimated 1.7 billion people – almost a third of adults globally.

Enabled by huge advances in technology, our evolving social dialogue has become accelerated and unfettered, on a global scale. It is critical to harness technology as a force for dynamic economic improvement: democratizing access to banking and payments. As such, we need to look beyond mobile wallets or digital payments and support those in need of easier access to payment and fintech solutions. A more inclusive form of payment technology is essential.

Catharina Eklof

 

Personal Identity as the New Pin Code

Many communities remain vulnerable or underserved by the functionality of traditional payment solutions such as bank cards. These products are, at their core, only linked to the owner by way of name and signature, offering limited security and protection. With contactless payments, no link whatsoever is required to a card for payment.

In an increasingly contactless society, fraud and digital security are growing concerns. Credit and debit cards can be used by anyone, and card readers don’t understand if cards have been apprehended illegally. Vulnerable groups may also struggle to input their credentials into what can be, for some, a complex system. Empowering those vulnerable groups therefore means providing them with the independence to access payments with greater ease.

Biometric payment cards play a significant role in bridging the gap between the financially underserved and the financially included. Simple and secure financial authentication, like facial or fingerprint recognition, allow payments to become about who a person is rather than what they know or remember. If individuals can be personally linked to a payment card via biometrics, it can address the significant 1.1 billion people worldwide who are currently without official government identification or access to it. In Nigeria alone, 149 million individuals lack the legal means to evidence their identity, while in South Africa, 12 million individuals are excluded from the country’s formal identity system.

Fingerprint authentication has the added benefit of optimizing security, in that it requires the individual to opt into a purchase, avoiding any issues of unauthorized or unintentional payments from having a reader placed near the card owner’s face. This provides increased independence for the blind and visually impaired, who account for an estimated 2.2 billion people globally, as it allows for seamless payment authentication without sensory barriers. Similarly, biometric smart cards can be transformative for more than 55 million people living with dementia and Alzheimer’s, as it enables access to payment without the difficulty of remembering passcodes.

Literacy is also a little talked about hurdle to inclusion. Globally, there are 750 million “functionally illiterate” individuals struggling to use and understand financial products. Across all levels of education, biometric authentication is a universally inclusive concept. It is easy to communicate and understand that one’s fingerprint is inherent to their identity, and can act as a form of verification. Biometric smart cards facilitate and secure payments with ease by simply requiring their fingerprint to instantly authenticate their own card.

 

Pushing on With Progress

Even the most reluctant individuals are likely to have succumbed to contactless payments and some form of digitized banking in recent times. This will have the positive impact of making the needed transition to biometrics more seamless. Using fingerprints or facial recognition to unlock phones or access apps is not unusual. If anything, they have been convenient and comforting additions to the surge of tech innovations over the last couple of decades. There is a relief in knowing that these portals are being secured by methods that are almost impossible to replicate.

It is a breakthrough that financial players and governments in the world’s most developed countries still need to catch up with, as emerging economies have already capitalized on biometrics’ capabilities for almost a decade now. In India, for example, internal fraud and leakage from pension payments dropped by 47 percent after transitioning from cash to biometric smart cards. Because the solution bypasses the need for prior credit ratings or credentials, the country has also been able to catalyze safe online banking among previously unbanked adults since biometrics’ introduction in 2014.

Meanwhile, in Pakistan, the total number of mobile wallet accounts tripled from 5 to 15 million in 2015, with an estimated 50 percent of new registered mobile wallet accounts opened using biometric authentication. This was a result of Pakistan’s National Database and Registration Authority’s (NADRA’s) effort of collecting biometric information to allow for more convenient and democratic account opening processes.

Many around the world have been marginalized by both the pace of change in banking and the solutions that have, to this point, been created to accommodate such change. With the mass adoption of biometric smart cards, the same benefits seen in India could be realized on a global scale. If we take on the opportunity in front of us – promoting solutions like biometric smart cards to increase accessibility to the global economy – we will foster a digitally-focused, equitable and inclusive society. This doesn’t just mean ease and convenience, but also security for all and financial inclusion of those who have been left out of digital evolution, until now.

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