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WHY ATTACKS ON CRYPTOCURRENCY EXCHANGES SHOW NO SIGNS OF SLOWING DOWN

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Ray Pompon, Principal Threat Research Evangelist, F5 networks

 

Hackers have a soft spot for targeting cryptocurrencies thanks to a lack of heavy regulation unlike traditional financial services. Cryptocurrency funds have no legal obligation to implement protection measures, so inherently they are not as exhaustive or technical. This makes them prime targets for hackers. Transactions can be extremely difficult to reverse, so although some funds cover customer losses, the reality is that if the exchange stretches into the millions, they have no obligation to help.

 

Bitcoin is now worth $3.5k, despite major fluctuations in value. For perspective in 2011, Bitcoin had parity with the US dollar, so the opportunities for hackers targeting cryptocurrencies have skyrocketed in recent years. Over the last seven years, F5 Labs has noted an almost twelve-thousand-fold increase in crypto theft and identified 73 major cryptocurrency incidents, each costing on average, a crippling $31 million.

 

Ray Pompon

The victims of cryptocurrency thefts

Many technological services in the cryptocurrency industry are targets for cybercriminals, but the most commonly hit technical services, according to F5 Labs research, are cryptocurrency exchanges (63% of incidents). These are the digital equivalent of currency exchanges enabling customers to buy or sell various cryptocurrencies, making them an obvious nexus for high value transactions.

 

Cryptocurrency uses storage mechanisms called wallets, of which there are two kinds. A “hot wallet” is Internet-connected and used to store cryptocurrencies used for day-to-day transactions –  basically the equivalent of your real-life wallet. Hot wallets can run on cryptocurrency exchanges for easy trading, but they can also run as client software on a computer or mobile device. As a result, hot wallets are more likely stolen by cyber-criminals.

 

To reduce the risk, cryptocurrency technology also leverages “cold wallets” that are not connected. The best cold wallets are air-gapped systems, such as a USB stick with a strong password. Within cryptocurrency exchanges, cold wallets exist as separate, strongly-encrypted databases requiring a wallet owner to unlock it with a private key. Of the known attacked technologies, hot wallets within exchanges are ripped off three times as much as cold wallets. Wallet software for clients that is outside of an exchange can also be attacked. These incidents currently represent around one seventh of all cryptocurrency thefts.

 

Mining services are another potentially hackable cryptocurrency technology, although this is a relatively rare occurrence.

 

What does the future hold for protecting cryptocurrency exchanges

Applications are complex conglomerations of interacting services in a variety of environments, glued together with APIs, authentication credentials, and networks. This means they have an extensive attack surface and therefore need extensive security testing and protection.

 

Regulating the cryptocurrency industry is finally becoming a priority for governments around the world, and some have already begun defining cybersecurity measures. For instance, many countries are looking at Korea Regulation 5.5.7 (Regulation on Supervision of Electronic Finance) as one of the leaders in this respect, as it treats cryptocurrency exchange cybersecurity measures in the same way that a financial institution would. This is an example that should be followed and embraced, as one of the most effective ways to protect cryptocurrency exchanges, especially if the cryptocurrency industry continues growing at its current rate.

 

 

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Finance

THREE STEPS TO ENSURE RECOVERY OF COVID LOANS GOES SMOOTHLY

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In the wake of the pandemic, the government acted quickly to provide financial Covid support packages to help struggling businesses. With the economy now recovering, Mike Hampson, CEO at Bishopsgate Financial explores the range of options available for banks to ensure that those loans are repaid.

 

Since the start of the pandemic, businesses have raised over £75bn[1] from banks and financial markets, through interest-free emergency support schemes. But the harsh reality is that not all loans will be honoured as the economy recuperates.

As a result, banking professionals with client relationship management experience and skills in supporting clients to repay loans in a challenging business environment, will be in high demand.

 

Mike Hampson

Setting up training capabilities for client support post-pandemic

Commercial bankers estimate 60% of new coronavirus scheme loans[4] will default or suffer other repayment issues that will drive previously unseen levels of non-performing loans. It’s a tough balancing act and one that demands careful management of the lending transaction lifecycle, from origination through to collection, recovery, and handling bad debts. Banks no doubt already have frameworks in place to manage these elements, but it’s highly important to make customer interactions as easy as possible and ensure their genuine concern for their customers is clear.

Subsequently, hundreds of workers at major banks including HSBC, NatWest and Metro Bank[5] are understood to be receiving training in how to deal with vulnerable customers and “demonstrate empathy” as the first wave of repayments for coronavirus loans fall due. Staff ‘sensitivity[6] training builds on client-support and workout capabilities, such as improving sensitivity to early-warning systems, developing short-term forbearance solutions and loan modifications, and providing guidance on alternative products.

This approach may further avoid the additional pressure on the UK’s mental health crisis as financial institutions prepare to call in loans issued during the pandemic.

HSBC, which now has 400 staff in its debt collection team,[7] said the aim was to ensure staff had a “consistent understanding of vulnerability” and are “aware of the factors that could make an individual vulnerable” when having repayment conversations with customers.

An executive at another bank said its expanded debt collection team was being trained in “empathy, vulnerability and listening skills”. The individual told The Telegraph: “Ultimately, we don’t want to damage the economy by being overly aggressive.”

A peculiarity of a crisis situation is that customers don’t always know what they will need until that need is pressing. Finding that their bank is prepared to help in unexpected ways will go a long way toward reassuring them.

[2] https://www.law360.com/articles/1355897/

[3] https://www.bishopsgate-financial.com/insights/the-change-perspective/the-change-perspective-2021

[4] https://www.grantthornton.co.uk/insights/how-to-manage-upcoming-non-performing-loans/

[5] https://industryslice.com/NewsLetter/8_33

[6] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/global-health/climate-and-people/covid-19-has-amplified-parallel-pandemic-poor-mental-health/

[7] https://www.msn.com/en-gb/money/other/bank-staff-get-sensitivity-training-before-calling-in-covid-debts/ar-BB1fNMte

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FOUR STEPS TO INTEGRATING INTELLIGENT AUTOMATION IN THE FINANCE DEPARTMENT

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Marieke Saeij, CEO of Visma | Onguard

 

It’s clear that Intelligent Automation (IA) is still very much an emerging technology, with one indication being that is has only been mentioned a handful of times on Twitter since the beginning of 2021. Results from our latest annual FinTech Barometer reveal a mixed picture in terms of awareness, with half of finance professionals having never heard the term before. Whilst this is unsurprising for a technology concept very much in the ‘early adopters’ stage, organisations can stand to gain real benefits from embracing Intelligent Automation now, particular within the finance department. With this in mind, we explore some of these benefits and share a step-by-step best practice to implementing it into business operations.

 

Intelligent Automation ensures a predictable order-to-cash process

Such is the speed of introduction of new technologies that it’s a challenge for businesses to keep pace. As the newest innovation in finance, Intelligent Automation is one that organisations can’t afford to let pass by. It truly takes financial process automation to the next level. In addition to helping maintain a high-quality customer service, it also complements the existing skillset of finance professionals in the industry.

Marieke Saeij

While Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Big Data are key innovations for the sector, IA can be likened to an additional layer that enhances existing technologies. By combining applications, this layer is capable of independently assessing situations and determining the appropriate process sequence. It can, for example, fully determine the risk of a specific customer, and can also predict at an early stage which invoices will be paid late, or even not at all, ensuring that finance professionals can then plan accordingly. The result is a reliable and predictable order-to-cash process.

 

The four steps to an IA-proof organisation

While the benefits of IA are numerous, implementing the technology can prove complex, although some are already treading the IA path without knowing it. In this instance it’s crucial to become aware and begin the purposeful process to full integration. Below are the four key steps to becoming fully IA-proof.

  1. Exploring the potential: Brainstorm where automation can be applied

Step one is to examine the extent to which automation can help your organisation. Blue sky thinking is the key here. What is the ideal relationship with the customer? What does the ideal order-to-cash process look like? In this phase, involving multiple departments from within the organisation is key, from management to operations. The finance professionals who have the most contact with customers are likely to have the strongest knowledge of which processes they would like to see automated. With no limits to ideas, it’s best to explore all the opportunities in the entire order-to-cash process and describe broadly the potential value to the organisation.

 

  1. Decipher which data and technology is needed

The second step is to map out which data and technology is required. Working with a specialist, either external or from the internal IT department, is beneficial at this stage to see where the opportunities lie. In many cases, off-the-shelf solutions are already readily available to help make the difference, so it pays to do the research and gain advice where possible.

 

  1. Firm up the strategy

With the plan mapped out, it’s time to fit the pieces of the puzzle together. Which technology and accompanying software is proving most valuable? It’s vital at this stage to analyse the results the organisation is achieving from deploying the right technology and software. It’s also important to outline any limitations and emphasising the potential risk of failure. This is the business case and the basis for the elevator pitch that will be presented to internal stakeholders.

 

  1. Draw up the roadmap and start benefitting from agility

The fourth and final step is prioritisation. The roadmap will describe step-by-step how to move from the undesired current situation to the desired end goal. In the first step, choosing a subproject that is relatively easy to achieve will help gain support from other departments within the business, and provide invaluable experience that can be applied to the more complex components that follow later. This agile approach facilitates a learn-by-doing mindset and allows the following steps to be tackled in a smarter and simpler way.

 

Effective preparation is half the battle

Exploring the potential of automation, mapping the required data and technology, establishing the strategy and laying out the roadmap are the four crucial steps to ensure the foundation for Intelligent Automation. Effective preparation and estimating which technology and accompanying software is needed will help to create a streamlined and error-free order-to-cash process. To ultimately save time and costs, empower finance professionals and maintain customer loyalty, the time for Intelligent Automation is now.

 

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