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Protecting the public’s access to cash with Zero Trust

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Juan Ramon Aramendia, Head of Cyber Security Product Engineering, Auriga

‘’The ATM Security Association (ASA) reported, as of mid-April 2022, approximately 70% of over 10,000 global ATM crime incidents were fraud attacks. This poses a huge public safety concern as cash remains a vital payment method worldwide, despite bank branch closures. In August, the Post Office managed increased amounts of cash, £3.45bn, the highest total since it began recording volumes five years ago. This highlights the importance of access to cash locally and nationwide, especially under the current cost-of-living crisis.

Business leaders must take a step back and reconsider their existing IT infrastructure as cybercriminals continue to target banking services, particularly ATMs, to steal money and confidential information, leading to economical losses, business continuity disruption and service interruptions. Traditional endpoint security models are not rigorous enough to protect critical systems since  trust is typically based either on external legitimacy sources or known malicious behaviours. This trust model should not be considered robust enough when dealing with inherently vulnerable systems where attacks are highly targeted, and where third-party actors can have uncontrolled physical and privileged access to the devices (in case of local maintenance).

 

Preventative measures – Never trust and always verify

Cybersecurity management needs to complement and coexist alongside digitalisation programs, especially on the deployment of even the most advanced ATMs and assisted self-service terminals (ASSTs), which are now being used in next generation branches and digital banking hubs.

Security leaders can take preventative measures to reduce the likelihood of attacks and mitigate the damage caused by honing into these for review. Banks and financial services providers should look to embrace the concept of Zero Trust across their entire infrastructure to secure self-service devices; especially those that were previously vulnerable to cyber-attacks.

It was born as a paradigm shift from a traditional security model designed to “guard the castle”, where attackers were supposed to only come from outside. While internal users and systems were considered “innocent”.  Yet, as data (cloud, hybrid infrastructures) and workers (hybrid, remote offices) are now more mobile than ever, the perimeter no longer exists – internal and external systems and users bring the same risks. Thus, the Zero Trust security model is based on the assumption that any infrastructure can already be compromised by the mere fact of existing.

When we talk about OT (operational technologies) environments that manage critical devices, such as ATMs or ASSTs (assisted self-service devices), the Zero Trust model must be at the core of the cybersecurity strategy. This model must make a series of suspicious assumptions about the vulnerability of the infrastructure that manages the devices, assuming that the remote access system can be manipulated, that the software distribution system can be used to deploy malware, that the maintenance technician or the end user himself can be attackers or that our hard drive can be stolen to carry out reverse engineering activities.

That said, Zero Trust is a marketing term, and it is not possible to trust nothing or no one at all. In practice, there should always be a secure core or “trusted core”, which must be based on always granting the minimum necessary privileges and thus drastically reduce the attack surface. In other words, we are talking about a strategy based on the “presumption of guilt” as opposed to the traditional “presumption of innocence”.

In the case of critical devices, the key to defining this “core of trust” involves trusting only those resources (software and hardware) and accesses (local or remote) that are strictly necessary for the correct provision of the service, identifying them in a precise mannerand verifying them in each use. It is important to point out that the criteria for adding elements to the “trust core” must always be based on learning linked to the internal certification processes of the devices and never be based exclusively on reputation – remember that criminals often use legitimate tools to attack us. However, the security policy must still be aligned with the operating state of the device. When the device is in service, this policy must be as restrictive as possible (adhere to the “core of trust”), but when the device is subject to a planned technical maintenance process, this policy should be extended temporarily, monitoring all activity, and explicitly authorising any changes that affect that secure core.

Finally, it is critical that all chosen security technologies are ready to adapt to the different needs of an entity that is, in itself, heterogeneous. They must be easy to use and allow security policies to be easily created, updated, and implemented. Cybersecurity is not a general model but unique to each organisation, which is why any cybersecurity strategy that wants to be successful must be completely aligned with the operations model and sponsored by the board of directors.

 

Zero Trust in action

5B(https://www.5b.com.gt/), the largest ATM provider in Central America, successfully secured their fleets of ATMs from cyber-attacks by implementing a cybersecurity solution based on Zero Trust. The protection technologies and methods deployed made it possible to secure key devices without interrupting operations, whilst centralising device network security to ensure efficient control. In addition, by concentrating security operations on a single platform, it ensures there is minimal impact on the performance of the devices.

It made it possible for 5B to achieve 98.4% optimisation in the up time of the entire ATM network and allowed the business to maintain full control over the integrity of software and hardware deployed on their fleet. The ATM provider was then able to run seamless 24/7 monitoring, which is crucial for the automated detection of suspicious activities and the implementation of premeditated response plans that include physical and remote verifications.”

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Ransomware chokes COBRA: How AI-powered data analysis can support financial services’ plight

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By Toby Butler, Financial Crime Solutions Manager at Ripjar

 

Ransomware attacks are on the increase in the United Kingdom. Most of the British Government’s COBRA meetings have been convened in response to ransomware attacks, showing how cybersecurity breaches are as pressing as national emergencies and crises. The National Cyber Security Centre’s (NCSC) annual review found this year that the country was hit by 17 ransomware incidents that were so impactful they “require a nationally coordinated response”. That extends to the financial services sector, which saw an increase of ransomware attacks with 55% of organisations hit in 2021.

Where does this leave the sector and how can artificial intelligence and machine learning be instrumental in understanding the risks companies face against future ransomware attacks?

Toby Butler

Company information is being stolen and sold to different threat groups, who prey on the individuals in that organisation who are more likely to pay them. The UK is one of the most cyber-attacked countries in the world and the Government has been criticised for being “ill-equipped” to deal with this exponential rise of fraud cases.

 

Ransomware-as-a-Service

Ransomware is one of the most common forms of cybercrime. Fighting it has become one of the biggest problems that organisations today face during their everyday operations. For instance, Malware (malicious software) encrypts the files of a single computer, then works its way through an entire network to reach the server and inflict maximum damage. Company information is being stolen and sold to different threat groups, who prey on the individuals in that organisation who are more likely to pay them.

When these attacks occur the victims, more often businesses, are left with minimal options. If they have substantial backup solutions already in place, they can attempt to restore the encrypted data to their servers. But if that data isn’t already secured elsewhere, they may need to pay a ransom to the criminals behind the attack. Thereby allowing the business to function once again and restoring their reputation. The cost of paying the ransom will feel considerably smaller compared to starting a business again from scratch. Sophos’ State of Ransomware in Financial Services 2022 report found that 52% of financial services organisations paid the ransom to restore their data, the average remediation cost in financial services was US$1.59M.

Cybersecurity Ventures estimates that ransomware is set to cost global businesses more than $256 billion by the end of 2031. By that token, organisations need to be extremely mindful of the potential threats they may face. Businesses need to understand the methodologies these hackers use, to address the weaknesses within their domain and take measures to isolate and prevent further ransomware attacks from happening again.

 

The rise of WAMs

According to a recent report by security firm CyberSixgill, 19% of the 3,612 cyberattacks that took place in 2021 were traced back to Wholesale Access Markets – or WAMs for short. WAMs are, in essence, underground internet flea markets. These markets are where aspiring attackers come to purchase network access from threat actors – the individual or entity involved in carrying out the cyber-attack. Types of threat actors include insiders, cybercriminals, rival organisations, or even nation states stealing data.

WAMs sell access to multiple compromised endpoints (or pathways) for around 10-20 dollars. Researchers found that WAMs listed access to approximately 4.3 million compromised endpoints in 2021, which include access to both provider and enterprise software (for example, an organisation’s Slack channel) up to 180 days before the attack itself took place. This shows how long these compromised endpoints remain undetected without proper internal analysis.

 

How can Financial Services stay ahead of the curve?

The use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning is undisputed across modern businesses and sectors, and continues to revolutionise processes across the board. AI is a significant player in the financial services industry, building the ‘cyber-wall’ against nefarious users. It gives organisations optimal insights into reducing the likelihood of a ransomware attack in the future.

Namely, AI and machine learning collects and analyses vast amounts of messy (structured and unstructured) data from disparate sources. The challenge for the sector is to understand the volume and variety of the raw data collected from any source to build better protection in the future.

Structured information could be best understood as the clear data we see in a table. For example, the following attendees made a business meeting: first name – Joan, surname – Smith, age – 46. But unstructured information is information presented in a complex manner. For example, ‘there were five people who attended the business meeting, one of whom was forty-six and called Joan Smith’. Naturally, due to the complex nature of the prose, it would be more difficult for a machine to process that data into a digestible format for further risk analysis. This is where AI continues to prove invaluable.

AI uses natural language processing to understand the information provided on the web. As the software continues to evolve, natural language processing reads the information in a way a human would to extract the key information from the text. By incorporating AI and machine learning within an organisation’s IT infrastructure, companies operating within financial services can be better equipped to handle cybercrime.

These tools are flexible and adaptable, they can be configured to analyse different types of data from different sources to curate key insights. This collated information provides a better analysis of the organisation’s exposure, allowing them the opportunity to get upstream in preventing future attacks. This kind of approach is essential to processing listings on WAMs.

The power to analyse data to identify weakness is vital in the battle against cybercrime. It gives organisations a better understanding into what they could expect to see in the future. Hosting the correct data, and with the analytical skills, financial organisations can gain a better understanding of the methodologies and weaknesses in-house that attackers use and exploit to hold them to ransom. Organisations can then use this as a reference to pinpoint compromised endpoints, giving them a chance to reduce access before this route can be exploited and ruin their business.

With cybercrime and ransomware continuing to remain prevalent, it’s vital that financial services companies understand how they can get ahead of the curve and build a robust security platform within their IT infrastructure that can withstand an attack. In 2022, a ransomware attack occurred every 40 seconds. The mindset for the sector needs to be one of when, not if.

Organisations need to be thinking about an attack now – before it’s happened. Pre-planning and preparing for the worst possible outcome from future threats and adversaries. The introduction of AI and machine learning in the fight against cybercrime is a must, and the sooner the industry gets behind in implementing AI, the safer it will be through the next decade.

 

 

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SVEA BANK ACQUIRES AREX’S FINTECH OPERATION IN FINLAND

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AREX Markets, the data-driven FinTech company that drives financing costs down for SMEs and enables them to get paid quicker, has announced the sale of its Finland operations to Swedish payment and financing institution Svea Bank.

With the deal, Svea will further strengthen its position as a corporate financier, as AREX’s c.1200 Finnish customers and partnerships in the areas of financial management and financial management software will be transferred to the bank’s portfolio. The Finnish operation of AREX has financed over EUR 500M worth of invoices.

AREX’s Spanish and UK operations remain unaffected and remain focused on building embeddable financing products for third party platforms. Customers in Finland have been informed of their transition, and their contracts and service details will port across to Svea.

Svea is reshaping the playing field of corporate finance in Finland, and taking on the operations of AREX in the region is a natural step to strengthen their own business and at the same time offer AREX’s partners and customers an easy path to a wider range of services than before.

“Over the years, Svea has grown a lot also through business transactions, therefore acquiring AREX’s business operations in Finland was a good and natural solution for us. In addition, the deal is pleasant for us at Svea because the focus of our activities is to help partners and customers succeed – offering AREX’s partners and customers a wider range of services is exactly that,” says Pasi Väre, country manager of Svea in Finland.

The deal also brings new opportunities for AREX to focus on the UK and Europe in its roll out of embeddable financing products, which can be white-labelled by neobanks, ERPs and accounting software alike. The business is seeking to bridge the liquidity gap faced by most small businesses in the face of a recessive economic climate.

UK SME’s can continue to access AREX’s core invoice financing product through the Xero marketplace.

“For us at AREX, this is a great step: we are developing a stronger presence in the field of embedded finance, which is underpinned by our sophisticated marketplace software, our strongest point,” says AREX’s CEO, Airto Vienola.

“For the AREX team it was extremely important that we find the best possible corporate financier to take care of the business’ customers and partnerships in Finland. Svea convinced us with their customer and partner-centric approach”, adds AREX’s co-founder Perttu Jalkanen.

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