RETAIL BANKING | Contributed Content, Singapore
Sharat Sinha

Top takeaways for security in Asian banks


Cybercrime has become a major global issue that is seeing increased sophistication with cybercriminals striving to find new and improved ways to access networks. The result is a sizable financial loss to individuals and organisations with serious damage to brand image and reputation.

The recent spate of cyber-attacks on financial institutions across Asia Pacific, including the theft of Standard Chartered’s customer data via a third-party vendor, and cybercriminals setting up a fake POSB Internet banking phishing website, has highlighted the importance for banks to re-examine the way they are protecting their data and customers.

Even though banks will always be a prime target for cybercriminals, there is a lot that can and should be done to protect against such attacks.

The following key takeaways for Asian financial institutions emerged from discussions during the FS-ISAC summit held in Florida, including:

1. Segmentation

More needs to be done on segmentation across organisations and their IT infrastructure. This is a broad topic that involves employees, contractors, data centres, endpoints, computing infrastructure, and more. It includes better segmentation of facilities, branches, remote offices, or business partners located in high-risk geographies or conducting business within these areas.

Of particular importance is the sharing of best practices to protect facilities and groups in high-risk geographies as well as a need for clear segmentation of assets, systems, and data based on their risk level and access control of users and applications.

2. IT costs vs. tighter security

Organisations must be proactive when it comes to the growing dilemma between controlling IT costs versus the imperative to tighten security. This is especially important around technology initiatives such as:

• Mobile computing. As part of a device refresh cycle, many financial organisations are in the process of retiring their portfolio of Blackberry devices that were provided years ago to employees with the goal to improve work flexibility and productivity.

Old devices are now replaced by a full BYOD model with employees allowed to use their chosen devices to connect to their enterprise network. It is highly recommended that IT departments proactively deploy solutions that will force all traffic coming from mobile devices to go through security checks similar and even tighter than other network traffic.

• SaaS applications and cloud computing. Along the same lines as the above, the use of SaaS is a fairly logical way to reduce costs for applications that are not core to your business and for which you might not want to keep critical expertise in-house.

3. Better network segmentation

Organisations are living under a constant state of compromise. We keep hearing that threats are more often coming from the inside of an organisation, making any security strategy based only on perimeter protection obsolete. Network segmentation helps significantly by blocking attacks from propagating from one zone of your network to another.

Next-generation firewall will directly contribute to a stronger overall security platform, starting with the endpoint and detecting attacks there as well as detecting when threats are attempting lateral moves within networks.

4. Importance of sharing threat information

Finally, there’s broad acknowledgement that threat information sharing is critical to raise the bar for the bad guys. It’s ironic but in many ways it feels like the bad guys are better organised as a community compared to the enterprises that need to protect themselves.

I have not heard one objection against the need for the private sector to collaborate though communities like the Association of Financial Advisers (AFA) and the Association of Banks (ABS) in Singapore, to share threat intelligence more systematically.

As the threat landscape evolves, banks will always be a prime target for cybercrime, yet they have a responsibility to protect their customers, making it imperative for organisations and their employees to understand the vulnerabilities that exist in the network.

It important for all parties involved to collaborate to adapt and overcome the sophisticated, multifaceted security threats faced by the ecosystem of information security.

The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Asian Banking & Finance. The author was not remunerated for this article.

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Sharat Sinha

Sharat Sinha

Sharat Sinha is the Vice President at Palo Alto Networks, for the Asia Pacific region. Sharat has over 19 years of experience in the IT & Telecommunications industry. Most recently he managed APAC business for Tellabs and at Cisco Systems in multiple sales, business development, marketing and product management roles. Sharat has a bachelor’s in Electronics engineering and a Master’s in Industrial & Management engineering from Indian institute of Technology (IIT).

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