Category: Technology

20 Aug 2020
Banking Bits and Bytes

What You Need to Know About Securing Exchange Online

What You Need to Know About Securing Azure AD

Technical Level: Beginner/Intermediate
TLDR: Microsoft recently released the GA version of their Exchange Online V2 module for PowerShell. In order to configure some of the more advanced settings for Exchange Online, familiarity with PowerShell is going to be required. Knowing how to store variables, run commands, and connect to Exchange Online will be the bare minimum to get started.

Exchange Online Security

Exchange online security is another one of those huge areas that can be difficult to cover in just one sitting. Topics here can range from making sure offboarded employees cannot sign in, to disabling protocols per user, or preventing client access for the entire organization based on protocol, user, or public IP, and that is just the start of it. Our future posts will go into some of the more intricate details of securing Exchange Online but before we can do that, we need to make sure everyone is familiar with PowerShell (PS) at a base level.

The reason for this is three-fold. First, some information can only be gathered via PS. Second, some settings can only be configured via PS. Third, when you need to affect users at a large scale, you will need PS for some settings (unless you like clicking through the Exchange Admin Center a million times).

Practical PowerShell Basics

Disclaimer: We aren’t going to go over the finer details of the “internal machinations” of PS. Our goal here is practical use of PS for administration of Exchange Online. The terminology, definitions, and examples are all geared toward this purpose with an intended audience being those beginning to use PS.

Let’s go ahead and set the stage by opening PS and checking to see what our version is. You can do this by running the following command:


When you run the command, you will see your PS version information displayed on the screen:

Securing Exchange - Code Example

These results introduce us to a couple of core concepts: variables, shortcuts (aka Aliases), and command logic.


Variables are just another name for a container in PS. Think of a basket. You can place any number of objects, like say bread, cheese, and wine, into a basket and go have a picnic. You won’t have a picnic if you are working in PS but it can be just as fun!

With the example above, $PSVersionTable is our basket and it holds one object, a Hashtable. That Hashtable has Key/Value pairs that equate to what was displayed on screen. Just like a basket can hold multiple items, so too can a variable hold multiple objects. Let’s go ahead and try it out.

Note: The $ is what designates the start of a variable name and what ends that designation is a space. In the example above, we end the designation with a carriage return.
Run the following command:

$Basket = “Bread”, ”Cheese”, ”Wine”

Your results should look like this:

Securing Exchange - Code Example

What we have done here is create a variable named Basket and assigned it a set of string objects where a string is a set of characters. In other words, we stored those objects in the Basket container. The next command should look familiar. By typing the variable name with a $ in front of it, we tell PS to show us what the contents of the container are.

Note: Variable assignments will get much more complex from here on out and so will our use cases for variables. However, understanding how they fundamentally function is the first piece of this puzzle.

With both commands completed, we are ready to venture into some of the shortcuts available within PS and wouldn’t you know it, there is already some mastery of this topic, so congratulations!

Shortcuts (Aliases)

To introduce shortcuts properly, realize that all the commands we have run so far have been cut short from their original iterations. For example, if we wanted to do the same exact variable assignment for a variable named Basket2 and then show what the values of that variable are, this is what the long-form approach would look like:

New-Variable -Name "Basket2" -Value "Bread", "Cheese", "Wine"
Get-Variable -Name “Basket2”

Your results will look like this:

Securing Exchange - Code Example

Notice that the results from the Get-Variable command do not match what we get if we were just to show the variable by running $Basket2. This is because what is returned by the Get-Variable command is the variable, not the contents of that container. In other words, it is like picking up the entire basket, filled with items. While you can “see” inside the basket (the value column pictured above), to actually access the items inside you need to “open” the basket.

We will open the basket with the use of another core shortcut concept called piping. When we pipe in PS, we take all the results of a command and feed them into another command. For example, let’s run the following code to get the values of the Basket2 variable from the Get-Variable command:

Note: The | character is called a pipe. You can type a pipe by holding down Shift and pushing the Backslash button (usually found above the enter/carriage return key on a QWERTY keyboard).

Get-Variable -Name “Basket2” | Select-Object -ExpandProperty Value

The results of the command will now show the contents of Basket2:

Securing Exchange - Code Example

This brings us to the last topic for this post, command logic.

Command Logic

Command or script logic is the flow of the PS commands throughout a PS session. At a high level, command logic is read from top to bottom and left to right. More intricate scripts can get more ambiguous as preset groupings of commands, called functions, allow script logic to be reused throughout a script. For now, we can focus on how command logic can be used to pair multiple commands together to achieve desired results.

We mentioned earlier that the pipe command is a shortcut. So how else can we show the results of our Get-Variable command (“open” the basket) without the pipe? We could run the following commands:

foreach($picnicItem in $(Get-Variable -Name "Basket2").Value) { Write-Host $picnicItem}

Note: There is a bit of redundancy here since we started off with a variable assignment and now are having to do some variable assignments for each returned result. This is just an example of how else to open a container. The shortcuts exist for a reason, use them!

The results of the command will show that the output now matches what was previously generated from our other commands:

Securing Exchange - Code Example

From left to right, there are a couple of new concepts that need to be explained. First, is the concept of a foreach statement. The foreach statement is a templated function in PS that allows the iteration of the objects in a container, one at a time. The basic structure is as follows:

Foreach("New Variable" in "Existing Variable"){ "Command logic to run" }

Like all variable assignments, the names of new variables are entirely up to the creator. will be used throughout the command logic as a representative item from .

Note: In the logic above, wrapping our command logic in $() lets PS know that we expect it to evaluate every command contained within and use that output as our . We add on the .Value because we need to access the individual values of the as a collective set.

For the script above, if we translate the code to layman’s terms, what we are saying is as follows: For each picnic item in the basket, tell me what that item is.

When PS is handling the command logic, it follows those orders exactly. First it considers the foreach() parameters and grabs the first item in the basket and stores that item in the picnicItem variable. In this case it is “Bread”. Then PS looks at the command logic and sees the request to write the value of the variable onto the console, so it displays Bread on the console.

After the command logic is completely evaluated, PS will then take it from the top again, but this time will grab the next item from the basket, in this case “Cheese” and store it in picnicItem. Then PS will evaluate the command logic, which states to write the value of the object onto the console, so it displays Cheese on the console.

PS will continue to iterate through all the items in the basket until no more items are left and then the command’s run has ended. To start winding down, we are going to go over a little bit of a more complex assignment scenario. So far, we have kept things simple and manually assigned some strings to a variable but as we progress, the assignments are usually dynamically populated from the results of commands, so we need to get used to doing that. For example, if we wanted to store the objects representing all the running processes on our current machine, we could do an assignment variable like this:

$Processes = Get-Process

We could then manipulate the objects in that variable any way we see fit. For example, to show only the processes named chrome, we can pipe the results of the object to a Where-Object command that we can use for filtering:

$Processes | where-object {$_.ProcessName -eq “chrome”}

Securing Exchange - Code Example

Remember that when piping, the functional equivalent is a foreach statement. In this case, $_ is akin to the assignment of an iteration and we are accessing the ProcessName property.


We can only have so much fun in a day with PS before we start to lose focus, so this is a good stopping point. We went over variables, how to assign values to them, how to use shortcuts to cut down on our work, and how command logic is structured. Stay tuned for more PowerShell Basics as we dive into connecting to Exchange Online and using what we have learned to administer users and settings.

Microsoft Source:
Exchange Online V2 Module:

18 Aug 2020
Banking Bits and Bytes

What You Need to Know About Securing Azure AD

What You Need to Know About Securing Azure AD

Technical Level: Beginner
TLDR: Microsoft has decommissioned Baseline Conditional Access Policies and has replaced them with the new Security Defaults as of the end of February 2020. If you have been using Baseline Conditional Access Policies, Microsoft advises that you move to the new Security Defaults policy or to custom Conditional Access Policies.

Azure AD Security

Security within Azure is a huge topic covering a range of services offered by Microsoft. Everything from password protection, to data protection, to device protection, the list goes on and on. Our future posts will go into what you could be doing to protect your Azure instance. For this post though, we are going to go over what you can (and arguably should) be doing at a minimum to secure your Azure instance.

First, we will go over what the current system is and then what the new system will be.

Baseline Conditional Access Policies

Microsoft has recognized that customers of all licensing levels have security concerns. To help their customers, they released these free Baseline Conditional Access Policies. With this system, Microsoft basically said, here are some Conditional Access Policies that you don’t need to pay for that are going to help protect your Azure instance. There are four individual policies covering four important security vectors:

  • MFA for Admins
  • MFA for All Users
  • Legacy Authentication Block
  • MFA for Service Management

As you can tell by their names, the set of policies are largely focused around Multifactor Authentication. A recent blog by Melanie Maynes, Senior Product Marketing Manager, Microsoft Security, states over 99.9 percent of account compromise attacks can be blocked with MFA.

The remaining policy, governing Legacy Authentication, is also indirectly related to MFA in that the protocols that are used for Legacy Authentication (POP, IMAP, older Office desktop clients) can also be used to bypass MFA. The policies just don’t have the capability of utilizing more than a single factor for authentication, so it doesn’t provide as much security if you enable MFA for your users but then also allow them (or a bad actor) to bypass MFA with Legacy Authentication protocols.

What you should know about Baseline Conditional Access Policies is that the set of four policies can be enabled individually, independent from each other. This is important because you cannot modify the policies. If your organization has a use case for a single user, or small set of users, that needs a Legacy Authentication protocol you can’t just add exclusions like you would to a normal Conditional Access Policy. Instead you would have to leave the entire Baseline Conditional Access Policy disabled. Obviously, you would need to weigh the consequences of this action but at least you have the choice of keeping the other MFA related policies enabled and just keeping the Legacy Authentication policy disabled.

Security Defaults

In a recent article, Alex Weinert, Director of Identity Security at Microsoft, goes over the reasons for adding in Security Defaults. In the article, he goes over some of the attacks Microsoft sees and why they have been evolving their base security levels for customers. He also briefly mentions the Baseline policies with an indication that they were just one attempt at trying to secure customers but that they ultimately moved away from the Baseline policies based on customer feedback and their other learnings. Whatever the reason for the switch, at the end of February 2020, they got rid of the Baseline Conditional Access policies and replaced them with a new Directory property called Security Defaults. Really, it is just the same Baseline policies with one catch: it is an all or nothing switch. You won’t get to choose which of the policies you enable and which you don’t.

Enabling Security Defaults

The distinction is important for any organization that isn’t quite ready to invest in Conditional Access Policies for added security. If your organization has processes which utilize Legacy Authentication protocols (which include Basic Authentication for Remote PowerShell and SMTP for printers/scanners!) enabling the Security Defaults will break those processes. If you are a CSP using RPS with Basic Authentication for automated, non-interactive, connectivity to Exchange Online, you will need to make sure you have converted your processes to utilize Microsoft’s Secure Application Model. For your printers/scanners, you will need to utilize a relay capable of modern authentication or authentication via certificate or IP.


In lieu of paid for Conditional Access Policies, where you can customize policies and make exceptions, the new Security Defaults provide a simple and effective way of protecting your Azure AD instance. If you plan on enabling them, just be sure to understand that they block Legacy Authentication which could cause some issues with automated non-interactive connectivity or with your printers/scanners for those that utilize Basic Authentication with SMTP. If you utilize Exchange Online and have printers/scanners that fall into this category, consider setting up a relay with authentication based on certificate or IP (we will be going over this later as well).

If you are already using the Baseline Conditional Access Policies but picking and choosing among the four, be prepared to purchase licenses for Conditional Access Policies or be prepared to enable the entire set of them via Security Defaults.


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.

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.


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.


  • 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.”

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?


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.


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.


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.”

02 Apr 2020
Microsoft’s LDAP Security Update and the Impact on Financial Institutions Today

Make It or Break It: Microsoft’s LDAP Security Update and the Impact on Financial Institutions Today

Microsoft’s LDAP Security Update and the Impact on Financial Institutions Today

In January 2020, Microsoft announced it would release a security update on Windows that by default enables LDAP channel binding and LDAP signing hardening changes for Active Directory. LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol) is an open and cross platform protocol used for directory services authentication. LDAP provides the communication language that applications use to communicate with other Windows active directory (AD) servers which stores users, groups and passwords for many systems on an organization’s network. LDAP is the middle communication layer between the active directory and your business applications and systems.

LDAP channel binding and LDAP signing provide ways to increase the security for communications between LDAP clients and Active Directory domain controllers. However, there are a set of insecure default configurations for LDAP channel binding and LDAP signing on Active Directory domain controllers that let the LDAP communicate without enforcing secure LDAP channel binding and LDAP signing. Many organizations have not addressed this vulnerability by changing their default setting to make the LDAP more secure, so Microsoft is leading the charge to ensure network security for all users.

While originally slated for March 2020, Microsoft plans to release the update mid-year, giving organizations more time to proactively prepare for the change. This is because the patch will disable all insecure LDAP bindings, which has the potential to break many systems for several organizations. Financial institutions must look at their systems, determine insecure devices or applications, and fix them while there is still the option to switch back to the default setting.

The Problem

So why is Microsoft forcing this update on its users? The main concern is password protection. With Windows Server active directory, passwords are essentially allowed to be sent over the network in clear text (a non-TLS encrypted communication) by default. Microsoft’s patch is going to harden LDAP to essentially block the ability to send a password over the network using clear text. This is important because if a hacker is trying to intercept your organization’s passwords and encounters an insecure LDAP, they would be able to read the password and use this information to access your systems. LDAP needs to be hardened and changed from an insecure 0 to a secure 1 or 2 to ensure this doesn’t occur. When you harden LDAP, you’re improving the security posture of this protocol, so it has less vulnerabilities and less chances of being exploited.

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Remember this is an “all or nothing” setting. You either make it secure or you don’t, but there are many consequences tied to the latter. Once this update is released, if you send a communication in clear text, the server will block it from being authenticated. If you are unable to send the communication securely by leveraging hardened LDAP, then it will likely break and no longer perform that function. This can affect any client, device, application, or system at your financial institution that interacts with the Windows server and needs to be authenticated (e.g., scanners that scan-to-folder or enumerate an address book.)

The Solution

So, what can you do to get ahead of this impending patch? Financial institutions can make this change early before the patch is released, by changing the registry setting forcing the LDAP to be more secure and causing everything that is going to break to break. Then they can change the setting back and fix whatever is broken. Again, the affected systems could be anything that authenticates with AD that uses the LDAP protocol. This is a process of trial and error and will require a lot of manual investigation to determine potential breaks.

A good place to start is to enable additional logging and collect all of your event logs and review the event IDs to see if you are affected. Start by looking for event ID 2889, 2886, and 2887 in your directory service log. If event ID 2886 is present, it indicates that LDAP signing is not being enforced by your domain controller. Event ID 2887 occurs every 24 hours and reports how many unsigned and clear text binds have occurred over the network. Then, event ID 2889 helps determine which IP addresses and accounts are making insecure LDAP channel binding requests so you can identify the correct devices and applications to fix. You can also review additional event IDs to gather more information or use a PowerShell command to help you track down insecure LDAP binding before the deadline later this year. If you have a managed services provider, they will be able to help you find the right solution.

27 Mar 2020
What Community Banks and Credit Unions Should Do to Combat COVID-19

Facing a Pandemic: What Community Banks and Credit Unions Should Do to Combat COVID-19

What Community Banks and Credit Unions Should Do to Combat COVID-19

As the Coronavirus pandemic continues to rise throughout the world, it is important for community banks and credit unions to effectively carry out their pandemic plans to stop the spread of the virus and implement alternative ways to serve customers or members during this critical time. Safe Systems held a webinar last week covering five things all community banks and credit unions need to do during a pandemic. In this blog, we’ll cover a few of the key points from the webinar.

  1. Pandemic Testing
  2. According to the Federal Financial Institution Examination Council (FFIEC) guidelines, financial institutions need to have a “testing program designed to validate the effectiveness of the facilities, systems, and procedures identified” in their business continuity plan. In a pandemic, it is the people who are affected more than the facilities, so your systems and processes become more impacted than anything else.

    A preventative program has to address:

    • Monitoring outbreaks
    • Educating and providing appropriate hygiene training and tools to employees
    • Communicating with customers and members
    • Coordinating with critical providers and suppliers

    With the pandemic already underway, it can feel counterproductive to conduct a pandemic test for your financial institution. However, we’ve found it’s never too late to test and improve your pandemic plan, even in the midst of a crisis. Make sure you are validating your succession plan and cross training measures by purposely excluding certain key individuals from actively participating in the testing exercises you conduct for your institution. During a pandemic, important individuals may not be in the branch or available every day, so it’s important that you test your plan to make sure the institution can still operate efficiently.

  3. Social Distancing
  4. Social distancing is a term that’s come out of this global pandemic to stop the spread of the virus. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) states that individuals should keep a six-foot minimum distance from others to limit the spread of the virus, but how does this impact the way your financial institution does business? Think of how your teller line, customer service areas, lending offices, etc. are set up. For these more personal, face-to-face interactions, it is important for you to change the location set up to ensure the 6-foot distance is achieved to protect both the customer and employee. Here are some tips from the American Bankers Association® to consider:

    • Require non-customer facing personnel work from home and try limiting interactions of personnel as much as possible in offices.
    • Have staff sign in when they arrive and leave.
    • Designate times for “at risk” customers (because of age or condition) to visit the lobby when no others are allowed.
    • Make loans or open new accounts by appointment only. When you close a lobby, designate one drive-thru for business customers and one for consumers, as their transactions are very different and differentiating the two can help speed transactions.
    • Keep your messaging positive. Don’t not use the word “Closed” on your door or website; instead use “Appointments Available.” Remind customers that banks are never truly closed, thanks to online and digital platforms that provide customers with 24/7 access to their accounts.

    We are posting tips, resources, and FAQs from ABA, FDIC, NCUA, and our own Safe Systems’ experts on the homepage of our website.

  5. Security in Social Distancing
  6. For employees that are able to work from home, providing resources for working outside of the institution is another great option to keep staff and the public protected. If your staff members are working from home, here are a few things to consider to ensure the institution maintains both security and productivity.

    • Do your employees have enough bandwidth at home?
    • Do you have a dedicated VPN device?
    • Do you have a firewall to allow this connection?
    • Can the firewall/device handle the number of devices actively connecting remotely at one time?
    • Do you have enough licenses (if needed) for each user to connect remotely?

    When your staff is working from home, you still must worry about security. You will need to decide how they connect to your network, what device they use, and how that device is secured. For instance, if you are allowing an employee to use their personal computer, then reference your remote access policy. It should include rules for the appropriate cyber hygiene of the remote device (patching, antimalware, etc.), and should be signed by the end-user. OpenDNS offers free security options for DNS lookups on home computers, which is also a good consideration should you need to update or create a home PC access policy and requirements. You may also require multi-factor authentication as an additional precaution to keep the network secure.

Financial institutions provide critical services to their communities and must be able to support customers and have alternate ways of doing business during a pandemic.

If you would like to gain more insights on COVID-19 and listen to a brief Q&A from our compliance team and information security officer, download our recorded webinar, “5 Things Community Banks and Credit Unions Need to do During a pandemic.”


Watch Recorded Webinar


As many community banks and credit unions are still formulating their responses to the pandemic, we’d like to collect and share what steps financial institutions are actively taking to protect employees and customers while maintaining business operations. Please take a few minutes to complete this survey and tell us how your institution is responding to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.


How are you responding to the Pandemic? Take the Quiz


10 Feb 2020
The Value of User Conferences For Banks and Credit Unions

The Value of User Conferences for Banks and Credit Unions

The Value of User Conferences For Banks and Credit Unions

As the financial services industry has become more technology-driven and more complex operationally, user conferences have become key events along with industry association conferences. By providing a venue for banking professionals to collaborate directly with their technology providers and other peer institutions, user conferences represent a proven way for banks and credit unions to extend the ROI of their technology investments. Examiners and auditors recognize the importance of participation in these events and many now expect attendance to gain industry knowledge and strengthen existing vendor relationships.

Regulatory Expectations – Vendor Management

Examiners are increasingly focused on how a financial institution manages their vendors. According to the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC) IT Examination Handbook, “User groups are another mechanism financial institutions can use to monitor and influence their service provider. User groups can participate and influence service provider testing (i.e., security, disaster recovery, and systems) as well as promote client issues. Independent user groups can monitor and influence a service provider better than its individual clients. Collectively, the group will constitute a significant portion of the service provider’s business. User groups offer advantages to both the service provider and the serviced institution by allowing customers to discuss and prioritize their concerns…service providers should obtain customer feedback though user groups or customer surveys.”

In addition to effective vendor management requirements, the FFIEC also requires employees of financial institutions to participate in ongoing education and technical expertise to remain in compliance.

Educational Benefits of a Users’ Conference

Regulatory and compliance issues aside, user conferences offer a host of benefits to participating banks and credit unions, such as:

Classroom Training

Well-designed webinars or online training sessions are great resources, but focused, in-person learning, and networking allows attendees to remain current on the latest technology solutions and enhancements, industry developments, and specific products and functionality that your vendor is working on. The opportunity to learn first-hand from industry and subject matter experts, as well as share your own experiences and expertise, really should not be underestimated.
User conference learning opportunities often consist of:

  • Basic and advanced workshops or sessions
  • Issue-focused roundtable discussions
  • Networking opportunities with peers
  • Software demonstrations
  • Professional development courses
  • Hands-on training and consultations with vendors

Best Practices

Many find the greatest value in user conference participation through peer discussions and open Q&A sessions on best practices. These sessions give customers access to some of the best information and insight on how other institutions are utilizing the vendor’s solutions to solve problems and drive efficiencies and profitability.


We know from experience that peer groups serve as the perfect environment to share and exchange ideas, concerns, successes and failures tied to the industry. Many community banks and credit unions share the same worries about technology, compliance, security, and business issues. These events provide a venue for you to hear others’ experiences and tap into their knowledge, providing you the opportunity to make industry friends and gain a trusted group of individuals you can rely on in the future.

The Safe Systems National Customer User Conference, NetConnect™, is less than a month away. This event will bring Safe Systems’ employees and strategic partners together with a variety of banking professionals representing technology, compliance, operations and management roles.

We understand the value of user conferences and we use that opportunity to meet with a selection of customers (Customer Advisory Board) to discuss existing and new products and services that will meet their future business goals.

If you’ve never been to a user conference, don’t take our word for it. Here’s what a few of our customers have said:

“Every time I attend, I come away with knowledge and information that can help me do a better job in my organization.”
“It was good to hear feedback from other bankers about Safe Systems as well as make connections and contacts.”
“This is the best opportunity to get a pulse on exactly what’s happening in the IT Banker’s world.”
09 Jan 2020
Top Bank Technology, Security, and Compliance Concerns in 2020

Less Worrying. More Banking.™ Top Banking Technology, Security, and Compliance Concerns in 2020

Top Banking Technology, Security, and Compliance Concerns in 2020

The constant evolution of technology, the ever-changing compliance landscape, and increased security threats have fundamentally changed the way financial institutions operate today and the key concerns they are facing on a daily basis. In our 26 years of experience serving the community banking industry, we have not seen a more difficult landscape for our clients to navigate.

The risks associated with security, compliance and technology have never been more challenging than they are today. As the responsibilities of community financial institutions continue to grow and evolve, it is not uncommon to worry about limited resources, keeping up with new technologies, or simply maintaining a competitive advantage in the industry. We believe that all financial institutions, regardless of size and location, should be able to leverage the best technology solutions available so they can focus on serving the financial needs of their communities. It is our mission to provide peace of mind and value for our customers in these areas so banking professionals can get back to doing what they do best and spend less time worrying.

Through the years we have developed and offered compliance centric IT services designed exclusively for community banks and credit unions, ensuring that they are kept up to date on the current technologies, security risks, regulatory changes, and FFIEC guidelines. We strive to listen to our customers to ensure our solutions continue to support the changing needs of the industry and meet their expectations in addressing key concerns. We recently surveyed a group of our community bank and credit union customers to gain a better understanding of the top worries and concerns they have for 2020 as they relate to technology, compliance and security. Through that survey we uncovered the following:

Technology Challenges

Financial institutions of all sizes continue to depend on their IT network infrastructure and technology solutions for nearly all functions of the institution, which makes it crucial that all solutions work efficiently. While community banks and credit unions have been utilizing technology for quite some time now, they continue to face certain technology challenges heading into 2020. According to survey respondents, the expense of technology solutions, keeping up with rapid changes, and truly understanding the technology solutions are top concerns. In addition, many continue to struggle with network management and connectivity, patch management, and training employees on IT solutions.


While banks and credit unions have adjusted to the frequent and strenuous regulatory reviews, they continue to struggle with meeting examiner expectations across critical areas such as vendor management, business continuity planning, and risk management and assessment. In addition, many struggle with adequately defining the requirements of the Information Security Officer (ISO), as this role has become more involved and the expertise needed has grown. The ISO has one of the most crucial roles in a financial institution. In fact, it is one of the few positions that are required by guidance. The FFIEC covers various issues related to information security in great detail, including the expectations and requirements for the ISO. According to the FFIEC IT Examination Handbook’s Information Security booklet, financial institutions should have at least one person who is dedicated to serving as an in-house ISO.


Over the past several years, the industry has been impacted by a marked increase in data breaches, ransomware, card fraud and other malicious attacks. Additionally, an increase in devices connected to networks has made it critical for financial institutions to strengthen their security strategies and policies and ensure all systems are up to date and able to effectively combat today’s threats. Cybersecurity-related attacks on the financial sector continue to increase at an alarming rate, making cybersecurity a top area of concern for financial institutions. Additional areas of concern include ransomware, phishing, malware, disaster recovery, and network security.

Managing these challenges alone can be a daunting task to undertake. As a trusted resource for financial IT and regulatory support, Safe Systems is here to serve as a true extension of your team, providing you with access to technology professionals who are specifically trained in the banking industry. Safe Systems offers cost effective solutions such as IT support and managed services, internal network/cloud design and installation, hosted email, business continuity and disaster recovery, compliance consulting, security services, and IT and compliance training. Our services help financial institutions significantly decrease costs, increase performance, and improve compliance posture.

Let us help you get back to what you do best. Less worrying. More banking.™