Category: Banks

02 Jul 2020
Keys to Develop a Compliant Business Continuity Management Program

Keys to Develop a Compliant Business Continuity Management Program

Keys to Develop a Compliant Business Continuity Management Program

Financial institutions (and examiners) are still adjusting to the Federal Financial Institution Examination Council’s (FFIEC) 2019 update to its BCP IT Examination Handbook. The handbook, now renamed Business Continuity Management (BCM), included several updates to the previous 2015 guidance. According to the FFIEC, BCM is the process for management to oversee and implement resilience, continuity, and response capabilities to safeguard employees, customers, and products and services.

To ensure financial institutions do this effectively, the FFIEC expanded the original BCM process.

The previous handbook encouraged institutions to adopt a four-step approach:

  1. Business Impact Analysis
  2. Risk Assessment
  3. Risk Management (essentially, recovery procedures), and
  4. Risk Monitoring and Testing

The new guidance recommends a slightly different approach:

  1. Risk Management (Business Impact Analysis, Risk/Threat Assessment)
  2. Continuity Strategies (Interdependency Resilience, Continuity and Recovery)
  3. Training & Testing (aka Exercises)
  4. Maintenance & Improvement
  5. Board Reporting

Additionally, the business continuity management process outlines 10 key steps financial institutions must complete to achieve a more enterprise-wide approach and meet examiner expectations. This is a bit more complicated than the process has been in the past and may require more time for plan preparation and annual maintenance.

The FFIEC handbook also provides a more detailed break-down of the BCM lifecycle:

  1. Oversee and implement resilience, continuity and response capabilities
  2. Align business continuity management elements with strategic goals and objectives
  3. Develop a business impact analysis to identify critical functions, analyze interdependencies, and assess impacts
  4. Conduct a risk assessment to identify risks and evaluate likelihood and impact of disruptions
  5. Develop effective strategies to meet resilience and recovery objectives
  6. Establish a business continuity plan that includes incident response, disaster recovery, & crisis/emergency management
  7. Implement a business continuity training program for personnel and other stakeholders
  8. Conduct exercises and tests to verify that procedures support established objectives
  9. Review and update the business continuity program to reflect the current environment and
  10. Monitor and report business resilience activities.

As many of these items were part of the previous guidance, here is a checklist consisting of required elements that may be missing from your program:

  1. Have you conducted a formal business process-based Business Impact Analysis (BIA) that identifies all critical interdependencies?
  2. Does the BIA produce sufficient information to establish the following?
    • Recovery point objectives (RPO)
    • Recovery time objectives (RTO) for each business process (prioritized)
    • Maximum tolerable (or allowable) downtime (MTD/MAD)
  3. Does your risk/threat assessment measure both the impact and the probability (likelihood) of potential disruptive threats, including worst case (low probability, high impact) scenarios?
  4. Do you use testing as employee training exercises to verify that personnel are knowledgeable of recovery priorities and procedures?
  5. Do you track and resolve all issues identified during testing exercises, and use lesson-learned to enhance your program? (Must be documented)
  6. Does your Board report include a written presentation providing the BIA, risk assessment, and exercise and test results, including any identified issues?

If you would like to make sure your BCM is up to date with the latest regulatory expectations, a complimentary plan review is the best place to start.

25 Jun 2020
What is My Bank's Cybersecurity Posture Compared to My Peers?

What is My Bank or Credit Union’s Cybersecurity Posture Compared to My Peers?

What is My Bank's Cybersecurity Posture Compared to My Peers?

It is important to understand your institution’s cybersecurity posture to find out where you stand in regard to cyber threats and what you need to do to create a more secure environment. It’s a delicate balance because being behind on your cybersecurity posture means your institution is less secure than it should be but being ahead likely means that you are investing in resources that you may not need. Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to do a true peer-to-peer comparison because there are just too many variables between even similarly sized financial institutions to obtain a useful analysis. Here’s why:

Every Institution Has a Unique Model

When we implement information security or business continuity programs for banks and credit unions, we start with a process called “Enterprise Modeling” where we identify the departments, the processes, and the functions that make up each individual financial institution. What this process typically reveals is that if you model out two financial institutions that look identical in terms of geographic area, demographic customer or member base, size and complexity, the results will almost always be significantly different since each institution has a unique operating model based on their specific services, organization, processes, and technologies.

Cyber Risk Appetite Is a Key Variable

Cyber risk appetite is another factor that often differentiates your institution from your peers. Safe Systems’ Compliance Guru defines risk appetite as “The amount of risk that an enterprise is willing to pursue and accept in order to achieve the goals and objectives of their strategic plan.” For example, let’s say we have two financial institutions that seem equivalent in outward appearance. Based on their strategic plan, one institution has decided to take a more aggressive cybersecurity posture to electronic banking products and the other has decided to take a more conservative approach. Because the level of risk varies by the approach, you simply cannot accurately compare the two institutions.

The Best Way to Evaluate Cybersecurity Posture

At Safe Systems, we recommend allowing your bank or credit union’s information to stand on its own. To truly improve your cybersecurity posture, you must examine where you are based on where you need to be — not where a peer may be in the process. Carefully evaluate your risks (including areas of elevated risk), and the controls you have in place that offset those risks. Then, examine the best control groups to apply against those areas of elevated risk and develop an action plan to take your institution from where you are now, to where you need to be. Then, when you conduct this process again next year, you can demonstrate steady progress to both examiners and your Board.

Holding Steady May Cause You to Fall Behind

In addition, just because your inherent risk profile isn’t increasing from one assessment to the next, this doesn’t necessarily mean your control maturity levels shouldn’t increase. The risk environment is constantly evolving, so holding steady on your controls may actually mean your cybersecurity resilience is decreasing. Making incremental increases in your control maturity levels will help keep you ahead of the latest threats.

For more information about improving your cybersecurity posture, watch the full “Banking Bits and Bytes Super Duper CEO Series,” below or view our other cybersecurity resources.

18 Jun 2020
Addressing Banking Security, Technology and Compliance Concerns

Addressing Banking Security, Technology and Compliance Concerns

Addressing Banking Security, Technology and Compliance Concerns

To gain new insight into the needs of banks and credit unions today, Safe Systems conducted a sentiment survey and asked community financial institutions directly about their top concerns. Their responses were primarily concentrated in three main areas: security, compliance, and technology, especially regarding exams and audits, cyber threats, and disaster recovery. Since the pandemic events of this year, many of these concerns have only strengthened in importance. In this blog post, we’ll address these challenges and offer some key best practices to solve them.

Top Security Concern: Cybersecurity

Banking security threats are pervasive worldwide, leaving banks and credit unions with good cause for concern. Consider these alarming cybercrime statistics: Cyber-attacks are 300 times more likely to hit financial services firms than other companies, according to a recent Boston Consulting Group report.

A key tool to combat cyber threats is the Cybersecurity Assessment Tool (CAT) from the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC) and the Automated Cybersecurity Examination Tool (ACET) from the NCUA. Institutions can utilize this voluntary industry-specific cyber assessment tool to identify their risk level and determine the control maturity of their cybersecurity programs.

Top Compliance Concern: Exams and Audits

While examinations and audits are necessary components of compliance, many institutions are intimidated by the process itself, and while exams and audits may overlap in similar areas, they are distinctly different in terms of nature and scope.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) conducts bank examinations to ensure public confidence in the banking system and to protect the Deposit Insurance Fund. Audits, which typically last several months, are designed to ensure institutions are complying with federal laws, jurisdictional regulations, and industry standards. Auditors conduct tests, present their findings, and recommend corrective actions for the bank to undertake.

Banks and credit unions can use several tactics to prepare for, and meet, the requirements and expectations of regulators:

  • Review all guidance and issues related to their institution and become familiar with any changes that might impact them
  • Review previous exam reports for comments or matters that require attention and be prepared to report and discuss these findings, along with any previous nonfinding comments
  • Use a managed services provider in combination with compliance applications to automate the process of documenting, reporting, and preparing for exams.

While following best practices will not guarantee that an institution won’t have examination findings, it can help significantly lower the likelihood and severity of them.

Top Technology Concern: Disaster Recovery

Financial institutions must have provisions for restoring their IT infrastructure, data, and systems after a disaster happens. Considering the recent outbreak of COVID-19, it is also important for community banks and credit unions to consistently review, update, and test their current disaster recovery plans to be able to address any issues that occur during a pandemic event.

With effective planning, banks and credit unions can launch a calculated response to a disaster, pandemic event, or other emergencies to minimize its effect on their information systems and the overall business operations. Some general best practices for disaster recovery include:

  • Analyzing potential threats
  • Assessing the technology required
  • Managing access controls and security
  • Conducting regular data recovery test
  • Returning operations to normal with minimal disruption

While the survey respondents shared a number of serious banking security, technology, and compliance concerns, the good news is that they all can be properly addressed with the right processes, strategies, and resources in place. For more information on the top concerns community banks and credit unions are experiencing today, read our latest white paper, “Top 10 Banking Security, Technology, and Compliance Concerns for Community Banks and Credit Unions.”

12 Jun 2020
The “Inherited” Risk – Assessing and Reporting on Vendor Risk

The “Inherited” Risk – Assessing and Reporting on Vendor Risk

The “Inherited” Risk – Assessing and Reporting on Vendor Risk

Vendors are the largest source of non-preventable risk for a financial institution, so it is critical that banks and credit unions carefully evaluate, monitor, and manage all vendor relationships to remain compliant and reduce risk. Additionally, institutions must be able to accurately assess risk, implement adequate controls, and provide all stakeholders (including regulators, management, and the Board) with appropriate reporting to convey the overall status of the vendor management program at any point in time.

Assessing Vendor Risk

The first step in vendor risk management is to perform a risk assessment to evaluate your level of inherent risk. This must always be done first so that you can then identify and implement the proper controls. If the controls selected do not completely offset the risks identified, then alternate or compensating controls would need to be identified in order to achieve a level of residual risk that is within your risk appetite.

Depending on the information you get from the risk assessment, you can clearly map out the level of inherent risk based on the vendor’s access to data and systems and the level of criticality for each vendor. These results will provide the information you need to control the risks, and ultimately report the overall results of your vendor management program to your key stakeholders.

When conducting a risk assessment you want to include all vendors but focus particularly on your critical vendors. A critical vendor is defined as one that either provides a product or service that is a key interdependency of one or more of your products or services, or one that stores, processes, or transmits non-public customer or confidential information.

Once you’ve established the initial or inherent risk level, you can identify one or more controls to off-set the risks. Typically, you want the vendor’s third-party audit report or SOC report; audited financials; insurance binders; a copy of their incident response and disaster recovery plans; and any testing the vendor has done on these plans. If you can’t obtain a SOC report, you’ll need compensating controls to determine their network security. Ask if they have an information security program and if they’ve conducted any vulnerability and penetration testing. You should also request a report of examination (ROE) from your primary federal regulator on your core provider.

Reporting to Stakeholders

When reporting to the various stakeholders within your institution, many of the reports are relatively similar, but the level of detail will be slightly different for each stakeholder group.

Board

The primary stakeholder that financial institutions must report to is the Board. When presenting to the Board, reporting does not generally need to be highly detailed and should provide a brief, high-level summary of the overall program.

Additionally, it is not necessary for the Board to see this report every time they meet. The requirement is to present an annual update, but we recommend reporting more often if the pace of internal change dictates (whether twice a year or quarterly) to show you are adequately managing vendor risk on an on-going basis. Here is an example of what a Board report should look like:

Sample Report for Vendor Management

Management

The management committee (i.e. IT Steering) requires a bit more detailed information than the Board does, and unlike Board reporting frequency, IT should report to the management committee every time they meet. If your management committee meets on a monthly basis, you should produce a report each month as well and communicate this information to the committee. Management needs to know what you’re doing; what you’re not doing; what you’re behind on; and have a good understanding of your progress.

Sample Report for Vendor Management   Sample Report for Vendor Management

Regulators

Regulators typically review the same reports as your board and committee. However, auditors and examiners will tend to take a deeper dive into your vendor management program and want to review everything you have on your critical vendors. They are looking to see if you’ve done a risk assessment and if you have identified the reports from the vendor that will line up with, control, and offset the risks you identified in the risk assessment. The report you present to examiners and auditors may have more of a narrow but deeper focus, taking a more detailed view of your most critical vendors.

View Our Vendor Management Resources

04 Jun 2020
I’m New to Banking Technology – What Do I Need to Know?

I’m New to Banking Technology – What Do I Need to Know?

I’m New to Banking Technology – What Do I Need to Know?

The reality for the community banking industry is that often, institutions are limited in staff size, especially in IT. As a result, employees are sometimes placed in an IT role without any prior experience and they are forced to learn the “ins and outs” of information technology quickly to ensure that the institution stays in compliance and the IT environment is secure.

This can be a daunting task for a financial institution employee who’s been placed in an IT role for the first time. From our experience working with more than 600 community financial institutions, there are four key steps that someone who’s new to banking technology needs to know to quickly get up to speed on all things IT:

Step 1: Determine the Financial Institution’s Current State

When stepping into an IT role from another department, the first thing you must do is get a strong understanding of the current state of the institution and how the IT infrastructure is set up. Key questions include:

  • What does the IT infrastructure look like?
  • What technology is currently in place?
  • Is there hardware or software that is reaching end-of-life?
  • Are network schematics and data flow diagrams up to date and accurate?

Look at all the policies and procedures currently in place and understand what management has approved for the information technology program and how the environment is organized. It’s important to know exactly where the bank is from an IT perspective because without this knowledge you won’t be able to troubleshoot potential issues or plan strategically for where the financial institution needs to be to meet compliance guidelines.

Step 2: Review Vendor Relationships and Responsibilities

It is critical to know exactly who is responsible for each IT activity. Many community banks and credit unions use a variety of vendors, including core providers, cloud providers, managed services providers, and others. It’s important to understand which vendors are involved with all your hardware, software, and IT services and review the service level agreements (SLAs) which are typically found in the contract to be clear on what the vendor should be providing to the institution. This is crucial because if an issue arises you need to know if it is your responsibility to handle it internally or if you should reach out to a vendor for support. Make sure you are clear about what the institution’s vendors are responsible for, when to go to them for help, and which activities are your responsibility under the SLA.

Another key part of this role is vendor management. As a new IT admin, you have a shared responsibility for monitoring and managing the institution’s vendors and weighing the risks each one poses to the institution. To keep the network compliant and secure, you need to thoroughly evaluate potential vendors; identify critical vendors and services; implement an effective risk management process throughout the lifecycle of the vendor relationship, and report appropriately to senior management. Some key best practices include:

  • Developing plans that outline the institution’s strategy;
  • Identifying the inherent risks of the specific activity, and the residual, or remaining, risk after the application of controls;
  • Detailing how the institution selects, assesses, and oversees third-party providers;
  • Performing proper due diligence on all vendors;
  • Creating a contingency plan for terminating vendor relationships effectively; and
  • Producing clear documentation and reporting to meet all regulatory requirements.

Having a proactive plan in place will help you effectively manage vendors and have a clear understanding of the level of criticality and risk for each service provider. Properly vetting and managing vendors will reduce risk for the institution, while also ensuring compliance requirements are met successfully.

Step 3: Understand the Institution’s IT Organizational Structure

How IT roles are structured within a community bank or credit union varies by the institution, but many financial institutions have an IT administrator, information security officer (ISO), chief information officer (CIO), and an IT steering committee to support IT activities. It’s important to learn how the institution is set up and understand what the ISO and CIO are responsible for so you can work together to ensure the institution’s environment is operating securely and efficiently. It’s also important to make sure all ISO duties are separated from other IT roles at the institution to maintain compliance with FFIEC requirements.

At some point, every functional area of a bank or credit union touches IT in one way or another so understanding how every system, application, and functional area within the institution operates and relates back to IT enables you to help the staff by troubleshooting the different issues each department may experience.

Step 4. Review Recent Audits and Exams

Another way to determine the current state of the financial institution is to review all recent IT audits and exams. Determine if there were any findings or recommendations made by a regulatory agency and make sure that this has been addressed and remediated appropriately. With this information, you can tell if there are any current issues or pain points and start to make strategic plans or address specific issues as they arise.

Financial institutions are held accountable for FFIEC compliance and must manage regulatory activities including reporting effectively. New IT personnel should become familiar with FFIEC guidance and understand what is required to meet regulatory expectations and perform well on future audits and exams.

With these steps, new IT admins can gain a deeper understanding of information technology and what their key responsibilities are at the financial institution to ensure the community bank or credit union can successfully meet examiner expectations and keep operations running smoothly.

21 May 2020
The Value of Network Reporting for Community Banks and Credit Unions

The Value of Network Reporting for Community Banks and Credit Unions

The Value of Network Reporting for Community Banks and Credit Unions

With increased cyber-attacks, shared data with third-party vendors, and strict regulatory requirements, community banks and credit unions have high standards to meet for information security. Adequate oversight and network reporting on the information security program is needed to ensure the proper controls are in place and that all stakeholders have visibility into the network.

In a recent webinar, Safe Systems shared some key observations on the need for financial institutions to have better communication and reporting between IT staff, the compliance department, and senior management. Here are a few key points to consider:

  1. Gaps Between IT Staff and ISO/Compliance Teams
  2. In many financial institutions, there is a lack of synergy and communication between the IT department and the information security/compliance team. Many ISOs simply do not have the technical background to fully understand how information is being protected. They tend to be more focused on vendor management, business continuity management, and performing risk assessments and less familiar with how systems are getting patched; if machines have antivirus; or if backups are updated consistently. It can be difficult to communicate effectively if ISOs don’t understand the IT world or don’t have visibility into network reports and the necessary information to do their job.

  3. Oversight to Better Manage Controls
  4. Because bank and credit union IT staff are human, sometimes errors will occur. While financial institutions have many technology solutions that automate IT functions and controls, oversight is required to ensure that the controls are adequate, working, and therefore mitigating risks. Without appropriate oversight, any gaps in the network can lead to a successful cyber-attack. Similarly, a finding during an exam that shows certain controls were implemented ineffectively can also leave the institution vulnerable.

  5. Limited Access to Reports
  6. Too often, when ISOs conduct a review of the information security program, the reports they receive are vague or too technical to decipher the key insights most important to the ISO role. Other key stakeholders, like the Board and senior management, also may need more access to high-level reports to better identify threats, assess risk, and make decisions on the appropriate controls to implement.

    Without access to adequate reports, the ISO and other stakeholders can become overly reliant on the IT team to explain what is happening on the network without having the ability to verify that information independently.

To learn more about information security reporting and get a demo of our NetInsight ™ cyber risk reporting tool, watch our webinar, “NetInsight: Trust But Verify.”

14 May 2020
Key Benefits of Cloud Infrastructure for Banking IT Operations

Key Benefits of Cloud Infrastructure for Banking IT Operations

Key Benefits of Cloud Infrastructure for Banking IT Operations

Cloud technology has been driving efficiency and innovation across many industries for years and today, many community banks and credit unions are adopting cloud services for their IT operations.

In a recent webinar, Safe Systems presented an overview of cloud infrastructure and the key benefits to financial institutions. Here are a few points to keep in mind if you’re thinking about implementing cloud services:

Data Centers

Cloud service providers, like Microsoft Azure or Amazon Web Services, have some of the best data centers in the world, providing space, power, cooling, and physical security. You no longer have to worry about the management burdens of an on-premise solution or co-location when your servers and applications are hosted in a secure cloud environment.

Lifecycle Management

The cost of server hardware does not end with its purchase. There are hidden costs of tracking which assets are still healthy, supported, and under warranty. Replacing aging equipment every few years often requires a complex project that impacts availability and takes time away from meeting more important objectives. With cloud services, you can eliminate lifecycle management of your server equipment, enabling you to focus your effort on higher-value projects that drive your business.

Availability

When you adopt cloud services, the availability of your critical application infrastructure and data is the responsibility of the cloud provider. The major cloud providers are able to attract and retain the best talent in the world to keep systems healthy and secure. They deliver your services from a highly resilient network of multiple data centers, vastly reducing your dependency on any single datacenter.

Flexibility

  • Experimentation
  • If your goal is to develop a specialized project for your institution, a platform like Microsoft Azure has many different services to make it easy for you to test scenarios or try new ideas without investing in hardware or navigating the justification and purchase order process. You simply visit the website, turn on a resource, and experiment. Later, you’re able to turn it off with no further commitment.

  • Fast Turnup and Fast Turndown
  • Cloud services enable you to get up and running fairly quickly in this new environment. Instead of having to order hardware and wait for it to be shipped or spend time setting up the solution, you can go from having an idea to having the solution turned on literally within a few minutes. Fast turndown is equally important. When you no longer need the solution, you can simply turn it off, and more importantly, the billing ends as well.

  • Elasticity
  • The elasticity of cloud service means that you can add capacity when you need it and remove expense when you don’t. For periodic computing tasks, like month-end processes, extra computing power can be added to your cloud services and then removed after the job is complete. This is more cost-effective than building an infrastructure that is sized for the busiest day of the year.

  • Serverless Functions
  • Lastly, large cloud providers have many advanced functions that can provide community banks and credit unions with new capabilities like serverless computing. Some workloads that traditionally required a dedicated server, like a Microsoft SQL database, may be able to move into a serverless alternative like Azure SQL. This creates the opportunity to start reducing the quantity of Windows Server instances that need to be patched and maintained.

Cloud infrastructure allows community banks and credit unions to reduce servers, internal infrastructure, and applications that would typically have to be hosted on-premises, in addition to the associated support each one requires. It also enables you to experiment and find the right services that fit your institution’s corporate strategy and IT objectives.

To learn more about cloud services, including cloud-based disaster recovery, watch our webinar recording, “The Cloud: Recovery and Resiliency is Just a Click Away.”

07 May 2020
How the Cloud Revolutionizes Disaster Recovery for Financial Institutions

How the Cloud Revolutionizes Disaster Recovery for Financial Institutions

How the Cloud Revolutionizes Disaster Recovery for Financial Institutions

Disaster recovery is a concern for all financial institutions, regardless of size or location, and is essential to protecting data, infrastructure, and overall business operations. In addition to having a thorough disaster recovery (DR) plan, community banks and credit unions need to have a solid site recovery environment to facilitate a quick return to normal business operations, in the event of a natural disaster or other disruption.

Cloud disaster recovery solutions are growing in popularity among many community banks and credit unions. However, it is important to understand the key differences in site recovery models to determine the best fit for your institution.

In a recent webinar, Brendan McGowan, Chief Technology Officer at Safe Systems, outlined the three most common site recovery models available to community banks and credit unions today and discussed key considerations when implementing each.

In-House Site Recovery

When using an in-house site recovery model, financial institutions commonly have a virtualized server environment. These machines often run in a VMware vSphere environment which sits on top of a storage array. On the DR side, there is essentially a clone of the production environment to receive the replicated data. This works well for many financial institutions, however, there are a few considerations to keep in mind.

House Site Recovery

With in-house site recovery, you’ll need to:

  • Have redundant hardware in the DR environment at an additional cost.
  • Purchase an additional facility like a co-location or branch for DR.
  • Oversee hardware and software lifecycle management for both production and DR environments.
  • Set up dedicated connectivity like multi-protocol label switching (MPLS) to point replication to the DR environment.
  • Conduct regular maintenance to ensure all replications are healthy and perform periodic testing.
  • Have significant expertise and talent to make sure the system works correctly and consistently.

Cloud Site Recovery

In this model, the production environment remains the same, but the hardware and software used in the DR environment are replaced with a cloud-based solution. With cloud site recovery, financial institutions don’t have to pay for servers and computing time until the day they need to turn on the disaster recovery solution. Until then, the institution will only be billed for the amount of storage it consumes.

Cloud Site Recovery

When you use a cloud site recovery solution like Microsoft Azure Site Recovery, you create a storage pool to receive replication from a small server on-premise, which is the cloud site recovery replication server. The replication server works by having each of your production servers send its data changes in real-time to the cloud application server. This server is compressing, encrypting, and deduplicating all of the incoming data and continuously shipping it securely to your cloud site recovery storage pool.

With the cloud site recovery model, you no longer have to:

  • Deal with redundant hardware on the DR side since everything is stored in the cloud.
  • Manage hardware and lifecycle management on the DR-side.
  • Pay for separate facilities since the data is in the cloud, and you can store your data anywhere in the world.
  • Worry about dedicated connectivity because you can send all of the replication over the internet with a simple virtual private network (VPN).
  • Handle all of the maintenance or have the expertise required to run the system.

Cloud-Native Resilience

In the cloud-native site recovery model, both the production and disaster recovery environments are in the Cloud. To set up the cloud environment, using Microsoft Azure, for example, you can sign up for Azure Virtual Machines, which would correlate to VMware vSphere in your environment. After that, you can set up your production virtual machines.

Cloud-Native Site Recovery

At this point, you can register for cloud site recovery for your institution’s individual virtual machines. Once you’ve selected your machines for replication, the system automatically moves that data to whichever Azure zone you select so you get to choose some zone disparity.

In the cloud-native resilience model:

  • There is no Azure site replication server as there was in the cloud site recovery model.
  • Since both environments are cloud-native, all the data is in the cloud and you need not worry about a replication server. Simply check a box to turn it on.
  • In addition, file backup is also a simple checkbox for each server, providing you the option to choose the location to store the data.

Migrating to cloud-based services is a great option to reduce maintenance; significantly speed up the disaster recovery process; and improve overall operations for your institution. If you are interested in implementing a cloud-based disaster recovery solution, Safe Systems can help you determine the right environment for your institution.

To learn more about disaster recovery and moving to the Cloud, watch our recorded webinar, “The Cloud: Recovery and Resiliency is Just a Click Away.”

01 May 2020
Combating Business Email Compromise and Protecting Your Remote Workforce

Combating Business Email Compromise and Protecting Your Remote Workforce

Combating Business Email Compromise and Protecting Your Remote Workforce

Over the last two months, there have been more people working remotely than ever before, and with more being done outside the branch, financial institutions cannot rely on their usual firewall and anti-malware solutions to protect their staff. Today, the single most common attack used to target remote users is what is known as “business email compromise” (BEC).

Safe Systems hosted a live webinar earlier this month discussing how BEC works; the main techniques used in these types of attacks; and the cost-effective solutions needed to mitigate them. In case you missed it, here are a few key points from the webinar:

What is business email compromise and how does it work?

Business email compromise is a security exploit where an attacker targets an employee who has access to company funds or other non-public information and convinces the victim to transfer money into a bank account controlled by the attacker.

These attacks have two main categories:

  1. Phishing emails – this is just a spoofed email that seemingly comes from someone you trust within the organization (like the CFO or CEO) instructing an employee to wire money to a specific account.
  2. Account takeover – the attacker procures your real username and password and then logs into your mailbox where they are then able to send and receive emails at will from your actual account.

Using these attack methods, cybercriminals can commit many different types of fraud, including wire fraud, non-public information (NPI) theft, and spreading of malware.

There are also a number of different attack “types” that cybercriminals commonly use to take over accounts:

A single-stage attack is a social engineering email directing a user to complete a certain action. For example, an email may include a link that leads to a rogue website where the attacker is trying to capture login information. This is a fairly simple, one-step attack.

The more sophisticated variation on this type of attack is the multi-stage method. In this attack, we often see that instead of having a link in the email that goes to a suspicious website that could potentially be blocked by other security layers, attackers use a link in the email that goes to a highly trusted place like a Citrix share file or some other trusted site. If the user clicks the link, they’ve now stepped outside of any email security layers the institution might have in place. Most often these sites are SSL encrypted so this underscores the importance of having SSL inspection performed on your traffic to ensure links in emails do lead to legitimate, secure websites. The problem with this, however, is that it can be an increasingly difficult job for some financial institutions to implement and manage.

How Can Financial Institutions Defend Against These Threats?

Prevent

The first line of defense against business email compromise is to stop the user from being exposed in the first place, and the single most effective measure financial institutions can implement is user training. It’s important for financial institutions to regularly conduct penetration testing and use security awareness training to educate their employees. Over the years, we’ve seen a distinct correlation between the frequency of user security awareness training and the success rate of phishing attacks. Some institutions leverage self-testing tools such as KnowBe4, but there are many other services that financial institutions can use to test their employees.

Mitigate

The second line of defense is to stop the user from causing damage. To mitigate the threat, financial institutions can use a variety of effective tools, including:

  • Email Filtering – a tool that filters out suspicious emails to ensure no spam, malicious content, or sensitive data makes it out of the institution unauthorized.
  • DNS Filtering – is the process of using the Domain Name System lookup to find the IP address of a website to block malicious websites and filter out harmful or inappropriate content.
  • URL Rewrite – if an email has a link, the system rewrites the destination of the link to go to a security company first before the real session is connected.
  • Multifactor Authentication – this tool requires more than one method of authentication to verify a user’s identity for a login or other transaction. The methods include something you know (pin); something you have (phone) and/or something you are (biometrics).

These are just a few of the tools that can help strengthen your institution’s security posture and ensure users do not fall victim to malicious attacks. However, if they do, it is critical to have a plan to respond.

Respond

The last line of defense is to stop the expansion of damages if a threat has occurred. In this case, financial institutions must conduct an investigation into the cyberattack and have thorough logs of their mail system to understand exactly what occurred; how far it has spread; and determine the next steps. Community banks and credit unions should have an incident response plan in place and perform regular tabletop testing to confirm the plan works and will be useful when a real attack occurs.

To learn more ways to protect your institution from business email compromise, watch our recorded webinar, “Business Email Compromise – Preventing the Biggest Risk from Remote Users.”

23 Apr 2020
Managing Banking IT Operations During a Pandemic: Your Top Questions Answered

Managing Banking IT Operations During a Pandemic: Your Top Questions Answered

Managing Banking IT Operations During a Pandemic: Your Top Questions Answered

For many financial institutions, it has been a challenge to keep IT operations moving efficiently during this pandemic. Since community banks and credit unions are considered an essential business, they are required to continue to serve customers and members. This can be difficult when employees are unavailable or are forced to work remotely from their homes for the first time. Many financial institutions have questions about how to efficiently manage their remote workforce, while keeping the institution secure and employees, customers, and members safe.

To address these questions, Safe Systems’ Information Security Officer, Chuck Copland, VP of Compliance Services, Tom Hinkel, and Chief Technology Officer, Brendan McGowan held a live panel discussion last week covering ways financial institutions can manage banking IT operations during a pandemic. In this blog, we’ll cover a few of the top questions from the panel:

1. How would you suggest making sure that remote access vendors are vetted quickly but thoroughly?

For many financial institutions, remote access was limited before the pandemic because this technology either didn’t support critical functions or wasn’t a priority at the time. Now, remote access is very important to continue business operations efficiently, and many community banks and credit unions are evaluating options for larger scale use. To do this effectively, you first need to consider all of the risks associated with remote access and the potential impact on your organization. This helps you get a quick baseline of the controls you’re going to require, which will then inform your vendor review.

While some institutions may be in a rush to get remote access tools up and running, it is important to stick to your normal vendor review process and take the time to thoroughly evaluate third-party risk. If you do have to sacrifice the integrity of your normal due diligence process and cut some corners to choose a vendor quickly, understand that there will be a resulting change in your institution’s risk appetite, or your acceptable risk. Make sure this is updated and that the executive management team including the Board sign off on the your new risk appetite.

2. What are some lessons learned about remote access for financial institutions during this pandemic?

It can be difficult to determine which remote access tool fits best with your institution’s unique security and regulatory needs. First, you should identify the best way for your staff to access the network whether it’s through a virtual private network (VPN) or an application for remote access, like a telecommute remote control tool. A VPN is a piece of software that lives on a computer that your user has at home — preferably a bank or a credit union asset and not their personal home PC.

When a user connects through a VPN tunnel, typically the computer gives access to the local network at the institution. With telecommute remote control tools, like LogMeIn and Splashtop, the user is working from a local computer at the office. These tools limit the abilities of the computer from interacting with the institution’s local network, often, making it a secure option for organizations that don’t want employees to have direct access to the network. Because each tool achieves a different goal, you will want to determine exactly what your team needs to conduct remote work efficiently, effectively, and securely.

There are also several collaboration tools and meeting tools to consider which can help different teams within your institution communicate and collaborate on projects internally and meet with each other or speak with external users outside of your organization.

What are you hearing from examiners? How are exams continuing during the pandemic?

We’re seeing that all examinations have either been pushed back to a later date or changed to a remote visit. In the climate that we are in, examiners are expecting institutions to make accommodations to customers that may be negatively affected by this pandemic and ensure they have access to other critical products and services.

But what happens when the dust settles, and we go back to a more normal set of circumstances? What will examiners expect then?

Most likely, we expect them to be looking for a mature “lessons learned” document that financial institutions create to show what they have learned over the course of this particular pandemic event. We can certainly see guidance changes coming out of this, with regulators having a new set of expectations for financial institutions going forward. Right now, we are all concerned with just getting through this challenging time but all financial institutions need to document what they are doing and the lessons they have learned along the way. They also need to create a report for the Board and the executive management team recommending any necessary changes to mitigate the impact of a pandemic, should one happen again in the future.

If you’d like to find out what other questions were answered during the live panel, watch our recorded webinar, “Ask Our Experts: Managing Banking IT Operations During a Pandemic.”