Digital Banking Reshapes Cybersecurity


Amid increasingly sophisticated cyber threats, banks turn to managed network service providers.

For banks and other financial institutions, safeguarding customers’ personal data rank atop the list of priorities, so the battle against cybercriminals never ends. Due in part to the pandemic, however, that fight is rapidly intensifying as the battlefield continues to expand.

Thomas Sweeney, Executive Director of the Strategic Client Group for Comcast Business, said the digitization of financial services has led to the disappearance of the old “network perimeter,” with customers conducting financial transactions using their smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktop computers. Each of those customer endpoints represents an opportunity for hackers to breach a bank’s network and compromise its operations, he said.

At the same time, COVID-19 has forced many bank employees to work from home for extended periods, widening the network perimeter even farther. The old network edge may have consisted of a bank’s headquarters, branches and data center, amounting to a more limited number of endpoints to defend, Sweeney said. The new network edge is more malleable, with employees able to use virtual private networks to access banking systems from their home or the local coffee shop.

“Employees and customers are now conducting business from a variety of devices and locations, so the network edge becomes a lot more fluid than in the past,” Sweeney says. “That expanded perimeter is more difficult to control because of factors that didn’t exist in the prior model, meaning banks need to take different security measures.”

Cyberattacks on the Rise
For every big headline-making cyberattack, there are countless similar attacks noticed only by businesses and their customers. Last year alone, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center received 2,474 complaints identified as ransomware, with adjusted losses exceeding $29.1 million, an increase of 225 percent over the prior year, according to the agency.

Ransomware attacks on businesses happen every 11 seconds on average, with global damages projected to reach $20 billion this year, according to the cybersecurity firm Cybereason. In the third quarter of 2020 alone, there were more than 3.3 million network attacks, a 90 percent increase over the previous quarter, according to the cybersecurity firm Panda Security.

In some cases, hackers will freeze a business’ computers and prevent it from accessing its own data, bringing operations to a halt until ransom is paid. Alternatively, cybercriminals will access sensitive business files and threaten to release them to the public, exposing a business to embarrassment. Hackers also may steal consumers’ identity, using their personal information to commit fraud.

Businesses that suffer a high-profile data breach can sustain damage to their brand and their relationships with customers,” Sweeney says. Not only is there a high cost to remedy the breach, but banks and financial institutions in particular face an erosion of customer trust that has long-lasting consequences.

“High-profile security breaches create a public perception of the company that was hacked that is extremely difficult to recover from,” Sweeney says.

“Obviously, the attacks on enterprise networks are constant, and the bad guys are always trying to get in, so cybersecurity—the security of networks and the security of access points—is a major focus for every financial institution worldwide. There are a lot of factors that have to be taken into account when you extend the number of entry points and the perimeter of the network.”

Since banks and other financial institutions don’t have the option of returning to the old way of doing business, they have little choice but to evolve their cybersecurity strategies.

With Convenience Comes Risk
Businesses that had anticipated a midsummer return to the office have been forced to change plans again due to the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus. In addition, many employees have shown a clear preference for working from home at least part of the time, so companies that eliminate that option risk becoming less-attractive places to work amid the national labor shortage.

Similarly, customers who enjoy the convenience of depositing checks, paying bills, transferring funds and applying for loans using their handheld devices aren’t necessarily going to start visiting brick-and-mortar branches for their banking needs.

“Those frictionless transactions are here to stay,” Sweeney says. “Consumers demand it and expect banks to provide it. That hybrid type of work model also is here to stay, so banks really have to figure out how to protect all the assets and information that they control. It’s a big challenge.”

Faced with mounting risks from ransomware, many banks and other financial institutions are turning to managed network service providers instead of relying strictly upon their internal IT teams to address network security needs, Sweeney says.

Solutions and Service Providers in Demand
In July, IDG and Comcast Business surveyed IT executives about their cybersecurity concerns, and 51 percent said the increased need for connected business solutions had made using a managed service provider (MSP) a “much higher priority” for their companies. An additional 36 percent said using an MSP was now a “higher priority,” with only 13 percent citing no change in priority.

When asked about implementing edge security solutions, 89 percent of IT executives said it was either a much higher priority or a higher priority. Respondents voiced similar views about zero-trust network access (96%), network security solutions (94%) and SD-WAN solutions (89%).

SD-WAN, or software-defined wide-area networking, is seeing increased adoption due to its ability to integrate a variety of advanced security solutions (such as next-gen firewalls, secure web gateways, zero-trust network access and cloud-access security brokers) with improved network security monitoring and policy setting.

SD-WAN provides the functionality for network administrators to segment network traffic and apply security policies. Data from different applications traverse the network via segmentation, which can help mitigate the risk of a cyberattack impacting all the data traffic running on the network.

Many leading financial institutions already have a clear picture of the risks they face and what they’re trying to achieve, but they may need the expertise of an MSP to properly design and implement network technology solutions, Sweeney said. In the July survey, 54 percent of IT executives said having limited IT staffing and security expertise was an obstacle in securing their networks, and 43 percent cited the sheer scale of the task as a major hurdle.

Without an MSP, banks may be unable to respond to cyber threats as rapidly as they would like. Cybersecurity positions remain vacant for at least three months at more than 60 percent of organizations, according to the security organization ISACA.

“Banks need a managed services provider that can provide solutions to help their cybersecurity strategy and offer better control over their networks,” Sweeney said. “Managing the network day to day is becoming a greater need for banking institutions than ever before.

“Rather than having internal resources manage the network, they can have an MSP do that.

A New Way of Doing Business
As recently as five years ago, it was unheard of for a major bank to connect to the cloud to operate critical business applications. But recent advancements in cybersecurity solutions have allowed banks to mitigate those risks.

“Now, there’s a more-prevalent belief that moving to a more-open architecture and moving more business to the cloud is possible in the financial space,” Sweeney says. “Through planning and working with MSPs on the right solutions for their business, banks can help mitigate network security issues.”

To learn how financial services firms are deepening customer relationships, driving revenue, and outpacing the competition with the help of Comcast Business technologies and solutions, go to