Addressing Financial Organizations’ Digital Demands while Avoiding Cyber Threats

By Jon Taylor, Director and Principal of Security at Versa Networks [ Join Cybersecurity Insiders ]
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The financial services industry has been at the forefront of the digital transformation age for some time. Agility and convenience are mandatory in this sector, and customers have expected reliable access to financial services at a moment’s notice. Everything from basic transactions such as making transfers and payments, to more involved processes such as investments, loans, and more, can now be completed online or with a mobile app.

Growing the attack surface with hybrid working and cloud migration

Keeping up with these requirements has caused financial organizations to rapidly overhaul their IT infrastructure, adopt multiple types of cloud technologies, and embrace a hybrid working environment for employees. Because of this rapid digitalization, organizations are consuming many different security solutions creating a bespoke environment that inadvertently exposes them to cyber threats – and there are plenty of cyber thieves opportunistically waiting for their chance to attack.

The Growing Risk of IoT

In addition, many financial organizations have invested heavily in other new technologies such as IoT (Internet of Things) assets that have become commonplace in branch offices as banks seek to optimize their remaining locations. These devices range from simple security cameras to items such as smart payment terminals and ATMs.

However, IoT devices can also give cyber thieves a clear entry into the network. As these devices are purpose built and normally run some kind of thin Linux/Unix platform, it makes them incredibly hard to be properly secured through traditional means. Because of this, hackers can easily use tools to perform automated scans to discover these devices and quickly exploit security issues such as unpatched vulnerabilities.

In addition, the financial industry is known for taking advantage of the availability of 5G networks. The technology promises speeds up to 100 times faster than 4G, allowing organizations to deploy even larger, more effective networks of IoT devices more easily.

But while enabling firms to rapidly expand their IoT and IT footprint, 5G can also lead to even greater risk exposure, since as more potentially vulnerable devices are deployed the attack surface significantly expands. In addition, attackers can also leverage the faster connection speeds, facilitating faster data extraction and more sophisticated botnets.

Balancing security and user performance

The financial industry faces a difficult balancing act, with multiple conflicting priorities at the forefront. Organizations must continually strengthen security around their evolving solutions to keep up in an increasingly competitive and fast-moving landscape. But while strong security is a requirement, it cannot impact usability for customers or employees in an industry where accessibility, agility, and the overall user experience are key differentiators.

One of the best options to balancing these priorities is the utilization of Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) solutions. This model integrates several different security features such as Secure Web Gateway (SWG), Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA), Next Generation Firewall (NGFW), Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB), Data Loss Prevention (DLP); and network management functions, such as SD-WAN, into a single offering delivered via the cloud. Cloud-based delivery enables financial organizations to easily roll out SASE services and consistent policies to their entire network infrastructure, including thousands of remote workers scattered across various locations, or multiple branch offices to protect private data and users, as well as deployed IoT devices.

There are a variety of SASE approaches for financial organizations to consider. Advanced unified SASE solutions provide the greatest benefits by natively embedding security into the global fabric of a software-defined network to optimize latency, scalability, and performance in ways only possible when everything is built-in from the beginning as a single service. A well-architected unified SASE solution comes with a unified management plane encompassing all the security and networking functionalities listed above, including a single policy engine, one language to define or import apps and users, an API that exposes most capabilities, and a common data lake – all part of a single operating system.

Unified SASE delivers important benefits for financial organizations to optimize security and user performance, most notably around tightly integrated security and networking that can be centrally managed and monitored, reducing the risk of security gaps or misconfigurations across otherwise separate functions. Unified SASE also offers the tightest integration of components, since they are designed to work together seamlessly, making it easier to manage and troubleshoot, which reduces complexity and streamlines IT operations. It is also easier to scale up or down for financial firms – since it’s a single-service cloud-native architecture designed for flexibility and scalability, adding additional components or capacity is simpler and quicker. Unified SASE gives users a consistent experience across all locations and services, with the same set of policies and controls in place. Finally, by combining security and networking policy into a single policy repository, unified SASE avoids the manual and often difficult and inconsistent policy reconciliation found with multiple implementations.

Enhancing network capabilities without compromising security

As the financial industry continues its relentless pursuit of digitalization, SASE will play an important role in optimizing the customer experience while also securing that experience against mounting cyber threats. SASE’s convergence of security capabilities and network management gives organizations the ability to control critical activity such as access management, policy enforcement, and network segmentation, just to start. Financial firms should explore how the vast array of SASE services can improve the services they offer while providing unparalleled security for the network, their customers, and private financial information.

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