- Rising Threat Landscape: Financial institutions face an increasing array of cyber threats including ransomware, DDoS attacks, and island hopping.
- Notable Attackers: From state-sponsored groups like Lazarus and GALLIUM to ransomware groups like LockBit, the threat actors are diverse and increasingly sophisticated.
- Bots and Automated Scripts: Businesses of all sizes are targets for automated attacks that aim to exploit vulnerabilities, scrape data, or perform credential stuffing.
- Internal Risks: Employee awareness and training are critical as human error remains a significant vulnerability.
- Supply Chain Vulnerabilities: Attacks are not limited to direct assaults; supply chain attacks represent a growing risk.
- Regulatory Responses: Governments worldwide are tightening cybersecurity regulations, including DORA in the EU and new proposals from the US SEC.
- Multi-Factor Authentication: MFA is recommended over 2FA for more robust, adaptable security measures.
- Unique Fintech Threats: The fintech sector faces specialized cyber risks, including API security and cloud storage vulnerabilities.
- Proactive Measures: Best practices for financial institutions include regular security assessments, incident response planning, and network segmentation.
The year 2023 has been marked by a dramatic increase in cyber threats, particularly for financial institutions. According to Cybersecurity Ventures, cybercrime damages will reach $10.5 trillion annually by 2025. Financial institutions are among the prime targets. This blog article aims to provide a comprehensive overview of the types of cyber threats that financial organizations are currently facing, who the primary actors are behind these attacks, and what measures can be taken to mitigate the risks.
Ransomware attacks are becoming increasingly sophisticated, employing tactics like double extortion, where attackers not only encrypt an organization’s data but also threaten to leak sensitive information. According to Verizon’s 2022 Data Breach Investigations Report, financial organizations are among the top three sectors affected by ransomware.
DDoS attacks, particularly pulse wave attacks, continue to disrupt the online services of financial institutions. These high-impact, short-duration attacks are increasingly being used to divert attention from more sinister activities, such as fraud and data exfiltration.
Phishing and Social Engineering Attacks
Phishing attacks, particularly spear phishing and whaling, remain a considerable concern. Spear phishing targets individuals, often employees with access to sensitive data, while whaling focuses on high-profile individuals within an organization, such as CEOs or CFOs.
Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs)
APTs are long-term, targeted attacks often conducted by state-sponsored groups. Financial institutions are lucrative targets for such groups who aim to exfiltrate large amounts of sensitive data or sabotage financial systems.
Supply Chain Attacks and Island Hopping
Supply chain attacks and island hopping can pose serious threats to banks, which often have numerous connections with other entities like insurance companies and vendors. By compromising a less secure system first, attackers can use it as a launching pad to infiltrate the primary target, making the attack harder to detect and prevent.
Who Are the Threat Actors?
Organized Criminal Groups
Organized criminal groups often target financial institutions with sophisticated attacks for financial gain. These groups can range from smaller gangs to complex, international networks.
State-sponsored cyber actors, often originating from countries like Russia, China, and North Korea, aim for both financial gain and the extraction of sensitive information that could be of national interest.
Hacktivist groups, such as Anonymous, often target financial institutions to make political or social statements, rather than for monetary gain.
Bots and Automated Scripts
Even without specific human intervention, financial institution websites face threats from bots and automated scripts. These automated threats are indiscriminate in their targeting, which means that no matter the size of the business, everyone is at risk. The bots are often programmed to perform a variety of tasks, such as credential stuffing attacks, scraping sensitive information, performing DDoS attacks, or exploiting known vulnerabilities in the website’s architecture. The primary advantage of bots for attackers is their ability to perform actions at a scale and speed that would be impossible for a human.
Why Everyone is a Target for Bots and Automated Scripts
- Scalability: Bots can easily scale their attacks to cover a wide range of targets, making even small financial institutions vulnerable.
- Low Costs: Running automated scripts is relatively cheap, providing a low-risk, high-reward strategy for cybercriminals.
- Anonymity: Bots can often disguise their activity, making it challenging to identify and prevent their actions.
- Data Harvesting: Small to mid-sized institutions may not have strong defenses, making them ideal targets for bots looking to harvest data that can be monetized later.
- Exploiting Known Vulnerabilities: Bots can be programmed to automatically exploit known vulnerabilities, making any unpatched system an easy target.
By understanding the range of threat actors, including the ever-present threat of bots and automated scripts, financial institutions can better prepare their cybersecurity strategies to defend against these various forms of cyber attacks.
The landscape of threats against financial institution websites is continually evolving, with a range of actors, both human and automated, looking to exploit vulnerabilities for different reasons. While the impact of these attacks can range from financial loss to reputational damage, proactive measures like regular security audits, multi-factor authentication, and user education can offer robust defenses against these diverse threats.