Tag: Cybersecurity

29 Sep 2023
Using Conditional Access Policies and MFA to Enhance Azure AD Security

Using Conditional Access Policies and MFA to Enhance Azure AD Security

Using Conditional Access Policies and MFA to Enhance Azure AD Security

Earlier this year, we saw a large influx of successful phishing campaigns, primarily due to attackers being able to circumvent multifactor authentication (MFA). Their schemes worked because they were able to trick users into clicking on a link and giving away their security token—essentially bypassing MFA. The human-error factor highlights the need for phishing simulation training to ensure users are more aware of security threats. With phishing attacks still running rampant—and becoming more complex and harder to detect—it’s imperative that financial institutions use multiple strategies and technologies to optimize security.

The implications of MFA-resistant phishing are huge; the attacks have the potential to affect numerous organizations that depend on Microsoft Entra ID (formerly Azure AD) and Microsoft Office/M365 services to support their operations. However, institutions can minimize account compromises by combining a variety of tactics to prevent cyberattacks from happening. For instance, conditional access policies (CAPs) are a key proactive measure that banks and credit unions can implement to enhance security.

CAPs—which are quickly becoming the baseline of security—are the cornerstone of protecting identities within Microsoft Entra ID. These policies protect the very first step of the identification chain, the sign in attempt. They govern the conditions for users to access Azure services and will grant or deny access based on configured logic. At a high level, this logic can be far reaching but even so, organizations will not rely on only a single CAP. No CAP can provide complete protection. Instead, financial institutions should stack multiple CAPs together to produce better overall coverage and security. For example, requiring MFA, denying sign ins form outside of the USA, and requiring device compliance or specific join status.

Not only will organizations look to stack multiple CAPs, but they will also look to utilize telemetry from multiple Azure services for their logic. Combining services means institutions must have the appropriate licensing for each respective Azure service. For example, to obtain device compliance information, organizations will be required to implement and license for Intune.

Additionally, when designing CAP logic, it can be helpful to take as broad of an approach as possible to the scope of the CAP. The objective is to try to affect as many areas as possible with a single stroke to maximize coverage and reduce gaps in logic. Gaps, or logic bugs, are the result of incorrect scope definitions which will leave an organization vulnerable or at risk when they believe otherwise. A good example of a logic bug is when an organization implements a CAP requiring MFA but not for all users. This leaves a subset of the user base at risk.

Generally, when it comes to creating gaps in logic for CAPs, the rule of thumb is to always create compensating controls. This is how organizations can create complex webs of conditions and still allow for business continuity while simultaneously reducing risk. The trade-off is the more complex an organization’s CAPs are, the harder they will be to design, assess at a glance, and to maintain.

By blending various security tactics and technologies, financial institutions can implement a layered approach to enhance their security posture. They can also partner with a third-party expert like Safe Systems to improve their ability to proactively detect and respond to phishing attacks and other threats. Our CloudInsight™ M365 Security Basics solution offers critical reporting and alerting to help institutions better gauge their security awareness. M365 Security Basics provides visibility into security settings for Azure AD and M365, making it easier for institutions to mitigate the impact of potential cyberattacks.

For more information about how to employ CAPS and modern MFA to minimize security risks, view our recorded webinar on “Securing Azure AD with Conditional Access Policies.

12 Jan 2023
Top Blogs of 2022

Top Blogs of 2022

Top Blogs of 2022

Last year, we covered a wide range of blog topics, including ransomware prevention and recovery; business continuity management and disaster recovery; and managing Microsoft Azure and Microsoft 365 settings. In case you missed them, here’s a synopsis of our top blogs of 2022. Reviewing these important issues can help your bank or credit union be better prepared for the challenges—and opportunities—that lie ahead in 2023:

1. Best Practices for Ransomware Prevention and Recovery

Ransomware attacks strike a new target every 14 seconds, disrupting operations, stealing information, and exploiting businesses, according to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). However, financial institutions that consistently employ best practices can prevent or bounce back from a ransomware assault. As an optimal strategy for prevention, institutions should identify and address known security gaps that can allow a ransomware infection. Since human error is the primary reason for most security breaches, banks and credit unions should focus on providing ransomware awareness training to help employees identify, respond to, and minimize attacks. They can also limit cybersecurity risk by using intelligent network design and segmentation to restrict ransomware intrusions to only a portion of the network and by having overlapping security solutions to provide layered protection. If a ransomware incident does occur, financial institutions should have pre-defined procedures for response and recovery. Many smaller institutions may lack the expertise internally to implement ongoing best practices for ransomware prevention and recovery, but they can work with an external cybersecurity expert to augment their resources. Read more.

2. Your Guide to Business Continuity Management and Disaster Recovery Planning

It can be challenging for financial institutions to implement successful strategies for business continuity management (BCM) and disaster recovery (DR). But our compilation of key strategies and best practices can facilitate the process. BCM encompasses all aspects of incorporating resilience, incident response, crisis management, vendor management, disaster recovery, and business process continuity, and it is an essential requirement for avoiding and recovering from potential threats. DR—the process of restoring IT infrastructure, data, and third-party systems—should address a variety of events that could negatively impact operations, including natural disasters, cyberattacks, technology failures, and even the unavailability of personnel. For successful disaster recovery, institutions should focus on four important “Rs”: recovery time objective (RTO), recovery point objective (RPO), replication, and recurring testing. In addition, leveraging a comprehensive cloud DR service can enhance redundancy, reliability, uptime, speed, and value. Using a cloud DR solution from an external service provider can give institutions the confidence of knowing their DR plan is being thoroughly tested and will work if a real disaster happens. Read more.

3. Managing Security, Identity, and Compliance within the Microsoft Azure and M365 Ecosystem

Microsoft Azure Active Directory (Azure AD) and Microsoft 365 have a distinct ecosystem. Understanding their services and settings is critical for IT administrators to manage security, identity, and compliance within their environment. Institutions can significantly bolster security by implementing some of the basic security settings under the free license level for Azure AD. Adjusting the security default setting, for example, can have a major impact. IT administrators can enable security defaults to enforce non-configurable conditional access policies as well as require multifactor authentication (MFA) registration for all users. IT admins should also review the identity architecture for their institution to ensure all users, devices, and apps connecting to Azure have an identity. Depending on their license level, institutions may be able to modify additional settings, such as allowing global auditing, blocking open collaboration, and restricting outbound email forwarding. Microsoft is constantly revising the features of Azure AD and M365, making it vital for financial institutions to stay on top of their ever-changing ecosystem. Read more to learn how to manage the complexities of customizing your Azure AD and M365 security settings.

Read about other important topics on cybersecurity, compliance, and technology. Subscribe now to the Safe Systems blog to have the latest updates on banking trends and regulatory guidance conveniently delivered to your inbox.

09 Nov 2022
Best Practices for Ransomware Prevention and Recovery

Best Practices for Ransomware Prevention and Recovery

Best Practices for Ransomware Prevention and Recovery

In the world of cybersecurity, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure—especially when it comes to ransomware. Ransomware attacks hit a new target every 14 seconds, disrupting operations, stealing information, and exploiting businesses, according to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). As a result of ransomware attacks, US Banks paid out nearly $1.2 billion in 2021, which is up by 188% from 2020 according to the Financial Trend Analysis report [PDF] on ransomware from the US Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN). But banks and credit unions that consistently implement best practices can effectively prevent and recover from ransomware attacks.

Prevention Strategies

The ideal strategy is to keep ransomware assaults from happening in the first place, but prevention can be tedious and challenging. As a general practice, institutions should identify and address known security gaps that can enable a ransomware infection. (If there is a loophole, hackers will eventually find it.) Since human mistakes are the root cause of most security breaches, providing ransomware training for employees is a crucial step that institutions can take to reduce their cybersecurity risk. Ransomware awareness training can help staff identify, respond to, and circumvent attacks as well as test their knowledge in a safe environment. Institutions can also limit their security risk by adhering to the principle of “least access” to grant employees the minimum levels of access or permission needed for their job.

As another best practice, institutions can also take a stricter stance on the technical aspects of cybersecurity. They can employ intelligent network design and network segmentation to limit risk by restricting ransomware intrusions to a portion of the network instead of the whole system. Institutions should also have overlapping security solutions to provide layered protection for their systems and networks. Then if a single security element fails, another layer will be in place to compensate.

Response and Recovery Tactics

Even with multiple protective measures in place, there is only so much financial institutions can do to avert a ransomware attack. When a breach happens, the institution must respond immediately to mitigate the impact. This includes implementing pre-established processes for incident response, vendor management, business continuity, and other key areas. Bank management, for example, should have an incident response program to minimize damage to the institution and its customers, according to the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC) IT Handbook’s Information Security booklet.

Having pre-defined procedures to declare and respond to an incident can be essential to effectively containing and recovering from a ransomware infection. While incident containment strategies can vary between different entities, they typically include the isolation of compromised systems or enhanced monitoring of intruder activities; search for additional compromised systems; collection and preservation of evidence; and communication with affected parties and often the primary regulator, information-sharing organizations, or law enforcement, according to the FFIEC.

In addition, restoration and follow-up strategies for incidents should address the:

  • elimination of the intruder’s means of access
  • restoration of systems, programs, and data to a “known good state” (using available offline or offsite backups)
  • the initiation of customer notification and assistance activities consistent with laws, regulations, and interagency guidance
  • monitoring to detect similar or further incidents

Another step in the recovery process might involve notifying an insurance carrier—if the institution has ransomware coverage. However, cyber insurance might not prove to be the ultimate remedy: A policy exclusion could keep the carrier from paying the claim. Or the settlement amount may not fully compensate for the institution’s intellectual property losses, revenue reduction, tarnished reputation, and other damages.

Augmenting Internal Resources

With the growing complexity of ransomware, it can be challenging for institutions to react to and recover from a cyberattack. However, those with limited internal resources can get help from a third-party cybersecurity expert to manage the process. Safe Systems, for instance, offers multi-layered security services that make it easier for community banks and credit unions to enhance their cybersecurity posture, so they can be better equipped to prevent, respond to, and recover from a ransomware attack. For more information about this critical topic, read our white paper on “The Changing Traits, Tactics, and Trends of Ransomware.”

27 Oct 2022
Social Engineering Scams - It Could Happen to You

Social Engineering Scams – It Could Happen to You!

Social Engineering Scams - It Could Happen to You

Many of us have heard the story about the fake printer repair person who shows up at the office to fix an issue with the intent to gain access to a secure area and collect confidential information. In reality, these things don’t really happen, right? At least not to small businesses or individuals…maybe this happened once to a large corporation and received a lot of press? This level of social engineering doesn’t really happen to someone like me, or does it?

Here’s What Happened to Me

My personal story involves a person visiting my house, a letter in the mail “from the government”, and a friend request on a popular social media platform from someone I knew 20 years ago. Each incident seemed innocent enough at the time, and on its own, did not raise any red flags. But as the events unfolded, I recognized a few mistakes that were made and realized that this was a coordinated effort and a scam!

It started with my doorbell ringing and my six-year-old yelling “Dad, someone’s at the door.” I answered the door to a well-dressed, very professional, middle-aged female with a smile and a government-issued badge around her neck. She promptly showed me the badge and explained she was there to ensure I had received a survey from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). She explained it was important that I fill out the survey to provide the data needed for them to make decisions to properly serve their constituents.

I conduct many surveys at Safe Systems, so I empathized with her need for information and the effort it requires to get people to fill out surveys. I informed her that I had not received the survey she was inquiring about. She then handed me a sample copy of the survey and said that my actual form would have a randomly generated code to help them track when each family had filled out the survey. Even though the survey was anonymous, they used the code to track completion. When I stated again that I had not received the survey, she politely asked me to keep an eye out for it. She said she would check back next week to confirm I had received it. She complimented me on my house and walked away. Although I found the personal stop at my house odd, I didn’t notice any red flags at first. I simply thought this was similar to how they knock on doors for the census every 10 years.

Two days later, when checking the mail, I found a letter addressed to my wife and me. When I opened it, it included a survey that looked like the sample the lady had shown me a few days earlier, but this survey also had the randomly generated code that she told me about. I was still a little suspicious but planned on doing some research online to see if everything checked out.

A few days later, I received a friend invite on Facebook from someone I had not spoken to in 20 years. I’m not a big social media person but I do have a few accounts to keep up with different family affairs. Once I accepted the invite, this person started asking me about life and family. He didn’t ask anything personal, just general questions about how everyone is doing, jobs, etc. He seemed chattier than I remember him from 20 years ago, but we all change over time. I was cordial with my responses but not overly responsive. Over a few days, I got several short messages from him, then I get hit with this question, “have you filled out the DHHS survey?” He said he had seen my name on a list of people who had not completed it, and since he knew me, he thought he would reach out. RED FLAG!

The last I knew he didn’t work for the DHHS so how would he see my name on a DHHS survey list? And how could he be sure I was the same guy he knew 20 years ago living in a different town? Everyone who knows me, knows I go by my nickname. Very few people know my official birth certificate name, which is what was used on the DHHS survey. So, the odds of my name jumping off the page at him is unlikely. RED FLAG! I was curious about where this was going so, I continued the conversation, but guardedly. I admitted I had the survey but had not had a chance to fill it out yet.

Not wanting to let on that I was suspicious of him and the survey, I lied and said I would get around to it at some point. His response was the clincher for me that this was a scam. He said, “Great, just don’t want you to miss out on all the money I got from doing it.” Suddenly, there is money involved with filling out this survey which had not been mentioned anywhere. BIG RED FLAG! Also, it is very unlikely that someone filling out the survey would see a list of others who had received it, especially if it was supposed to be anonymous. RED FLAG!

I decided at this point, I wanted to know how far they would take this scam. I started chatting with him about some trip we went on years ago and how great it would be to do it again (but the truth was we never went on any trip). I never heard from him again, and his Facebook account was deleted and removed 2 days later.

It is important to discuss his Facebook page, as it not only had pictures of him and his family but also indicated that we had a single “mutual friend.” This was meant to convince me of his authenticity but should have also raised a RED FLAG considering how much overlap there was in the people we knew. Apparently, someone had stolen the pictures from his Facebook page and created a new account. I later recalled I was already friends with him on Facebook and compared his actual page to what I had seen on the fake account. They were identical if you just looked at the profile picture and the last post or two. There was almost no history on the fake account, but I had not paid attention to this RED FLAG at the time.

Social Engineering Can Happen to Anyone

In the grand scheme of things, I’m your average American stereotype. I live in a small neighborhood in suburbia with a minimal presence on the internet. Why would anyone have any interest in me? Yet, with no reason to target me, someone came to my house, mailed me a letter, set up a fake profile of someone I knew 20 years ago, and created an elaborate scheme to get me to fill out a survey that asked for personal information.

The moral of the story is if it can happen to me, it can happen to you, your family, and your business! Don’t assume these things only happen to others or large corporations. Social engineering schemes are very real, and they can work if you don’t have your guard up!

As we reach the end of Cybersecurity Awareness Month 2022, I thought this would be an appropriate story to share. As you can see from my story, social engineering can be very elaborate and can use means that are outside of the internet to deceive you into providing access to confidential or personal information and/or your computer systems. So, awareness is key. In the spirit of this month, I hope my story serves as a reminder to talk to your employees and customers about recognizing red flags and staying safe online.

25 Oct 2022
Tips from Cybersecurity Awareness Month 2022

Tips from Cybersecurity Awareness Month 2022

Tips from Cybersecurity Awareness Month 2022

Cybersecurity Awareness Month 2022 is reminding individuals and organizations that there are a variety of ways to protect their data—and practicing the basics of cybersecurity can make a huge difference. This year’s campaign centers around an overarching theme that promotes self-empowerment: See Yourself in Cyber. The initiative’s co-leaders, the National Cybersecurity Alliance (NCA) and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), are encouraging people to focus on four key behaviors:

  • Enabling multi-factor authentication (MFA) — Often called two-step verification, MFA is an effective security measure because it requires anyone logging into an account to verify their identity in multiple ways. Typically, it asks the individual to enter their username and password and then prove who they are through some other means, such as providing their fingerprint or responding to a text message.
  • Using strong passwords and a password manager — All passwords should be created so that they are long (consisting of at least 12 characters), complex (including a combination of upper case letters, lower case letters, numbers, and special characters), and unique. This approach should be implemented with all accounts. Because we do more online today, it is possible to have hundreds of passwords to manage. And, if your passwords are long, unique, and complex as they should be, it can be impossible to remember and track them all. Using a secure and encrypted password manager is not only safer than using a physical notebook or a notes app to store your passwords, but it can also provide benefits such as alerting you of potential compromises and auto-generating new hyper-strong passwords that are stored along with the others.

A quality password manager should encrypt all passwords, require multi-factor authentication on your password vault, and not store the keys needed to decrypt the main password that unlocks your vault.

  • Updating software — Updates resolve general software issues and provide new security patches where criminals might get in and cause problems. You should update software often, obtain the patch from a known trusted source, and make the updates automatic if available.
  • Recognizing and reporting phishing — With the right training, you and your employees can learn to identify phishing, a scheme where criminals use fake emails, social media posts, or direct messages to trick unwitting victims to click on a bad link or download a malicious attachment. The signs can be subtle, but once suspect a phishing scam, you should report it immediately, and the sender’s address should be blocked.

Cybersecurity Resources

Cybersecurity Awareness Month is dedicated to providing resources to help individuals and organizations stay safe online. Businesses that need additional resources to address their specific needs can partner with an external cybersecurity expert. For example, Safe Systems offers a wide variety of compliance, technology, and security solutions to help community banks and credit unions safeguard their data.

Some of our cybersecurity products and services include:

  • Cybersecurity RADAR™: A web-based application combined with a team of compliance experts to help you assess your cybersecurity risk and maturity, using the standards set by the FFIEC’s Cybersecurity Assessment Tool (CAT) or the NCUA’s Automated Cybersecurity Examination Tool (ACET).
  • Information Security Program: A solution that allows you to build a customized, interactive, and FFIEC-compliant Information Security Program, complete with notifications, reporting, collaboration, approval processes, and regulatory updates.
  • NetInsight®: A cyber risk reporting solution that runs independently of your existing network and security tools to provide “insight” into information technology and information security KPIs and controls.
  • Security Awareness Training: Safe Systems has partnered with KnowBe4, a market leader who is in the business of training employees to make smarter security
  • Layered Security: Build a basic layered approach including a perimeter firewall with content filtering, email threat filters, an endpoint malware solution, and a robust patch management process, or add more sophisticated layers depending on your security needs.

In addition, we continue to provide access to trusted information related to technology trends, regulatory updates, and security best practices on our Resource Center. Our latest white paper focuses on the leading security risk to businesses today, ransomware. Download a copy of “The Changing Traits, Tactics, and Trends of Ransomware” to discover how to better position your institution to prevent and recover from a ransomware attack.

20 Oct 2022
Special Guest Speakers Share their Expertise on Key Banking Systems and Compliance Trends

Special Guest Speakers Share their Expertise on Key Banking Systems and Compliance Trends

Special Guest Speakers Share their Expertise on Key Banking Systems and Compliance Trends

Our first Customer Success Summer Series offered live webinars with special guest speakers who shared their industry knowledge to help our customers and other financial institutions enhance internal processes and key areas of their banking operations.

The Evolution of Phone Systems

Today businesses are facing the acceleration of remote working—Voice over internet protocol (VoIP), Virtual Private Networks (VPN), virtual meetings, and dynamic routing of phone systems based on the user’s location—all have become must-have requirements. Legacy telephone services are becoming more obsolete as some telecoms decommission analog technologies in favor of fiber pots and other alternatives. The old telephone system is evolving into a more modern option: unified communications as a service (UCaaS), which merges communication channels into a single cloud-based system. UCaaS offers all the necessary infrastructure, applications, and resources businesses need in an easily scalable solution. Unified communications tools can include chat, VoIP, text messaging, and online video conferencing.

UCaaS gives institutions the benefit of advanced functionality which allows employees to work remotely more efficiently, including things like the ability to check other users’ availability, reach people whether they are in the office or out in the field, and access the platform from anywhere. Another evolving facet in telecommunications is call center as a service (CCaaS), which also streamlines omnichannel communication and allows remote employees to work together as a call center team.

Given its flexibility and efficiency, it is easy to see why UCaaS is moving to the forefront of communications. There is a wide range of unified communications features, equipment, and prices and it is important for your institution to clearly define its unique needs to find a solution that will satisfy its requirements. It is also important to continue to evaluate your equipment and services every few years as technology and pricing continue to change.

Watch the recording of this webinar to gain a better understanding of UCaaS and other options so you can make the right choice for your institution.

2 Guys and a Microphone

Matt and Tom have both spent most of their careers focused on risk and regulatory compliance for financial institutions. We recorded their recent conversation which spans many topics including increased scrutiny on vendor management, continued focus on ransomware, and more.

Recent audit and exam trends continue to have a strong focus on third parties and proper vendor management. Examiners are considering the preponderance of fintechs, how much the average financial institution is outsourcing, and the inherent risk that originates from third-party vendors. Interestingly, their increased scrutiny may extend to any significant sub-service vendors that institutions may have. In addition, we are seeing questions arise about vendor management in the context of insurance. Cyber liability insurance applications are requesting more details about the management of vendors and other third parties.

There have also been some interesting audit and exam findings. For instance, one institution was encouraged to complete a post-pandemic/walk-through test or “dry run” of their pandemic procedures. This is curious considering all institutions have been in a “live exercise” for the past few years with the pandemic. Regardless, there is a good chance that the pandemic verbiage in your disaster recovery plan needs to be updated based on what has or has not been done in response to the current pandemic. And it is important to consider that an annual pandemic test will be a part of examiner expectations going forward along with the traditional business continuity, natural disaster, and cyber incident tests.

On the regulatory front, the new Computer-Incident Notification Rule went into effect on April 1, 2022, which is designed to give regulators early awareness of emerging threats to banking organizations and the broader financial system, including potentially systemic cyber events. The rule has two components:

  • The first part requires a banking organization to promptly notify its primary federal regulator of any “computer-security incident” that rises to the level of a “notification incident.”
  • The second part requires a bank service provider to notify each affected banking organization customer as soon as possible when the bank service provider determines that it has experienced a “computer-security incident” that has caused, or is reasonably likely to cause, a material service disruption or degradation for four or more hours.

In March, we hosted an in-depth webinar on understanding the requirements, recognizing gray areas, and preparing for unknowns. To help intuitions meet these requirements, we also created a detailed flowchart to understand when an event is severe enough to activate your Incident Response Team (IRT) and when regulators and customers should be notified.

Another regulatory trend to keep your eyes on is the increasing focus on ransomware industry-wide is prompting some state banking organizations to require institutions to use the Ransomware Self-Assessment Tool (R-SAT). The 16-question R-SAT is designed to help institutions evaluate their general cybersecurity preparedness and reduce ransomware risks. The R-SAT supplements the Cybersecurity Assessment Tool developed by the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC). It will be interesting to see if more states begin requiring this additional diagnostic tool.

Watch the recording to hear more insights about INTrex, SOC Reports, and SSAE 21.

08 Sep 2022
What to Budget for in 2023

What to Budget for in 2023

What to Budget for in 2023

Marty McFly (the lead character in “Back to the Future”) could not have predicted the world we live in today. Though the movie’s portrayal of flying cars, floating hoverboards, and shoes that lace themselves may have been a little far-fetched, we now have IoT, the Internet of Things. This powerful networking capability connects everything in our lives to a single electronic device that can be held in the palm of our hands. I can open my garage door, adjust the temperature of my house, set my alarm system, and even check the status of the clothes in my dryer—all from my mobile phone. Predictions are always a synthesis of art, science—and uncertainty. None of us truly knows what tomorrow will bring. We just know it will look a little different than it did today. With that in mind, it’s almost budgeting season, so here are my predictions for the top areas your bank or credit union should consider budgeting for in 2023:

1. Compliance Services

Compliance continues to be a strong focus for many community financial institutions. It’s important to be able to evaluate all your policies and programs to see where you may need assistance before your next exam. If you aren’t sure if your policies and programs are keeping up with regulations, you may want to hire a third party to provide an objective perspective. Companies like Safe Systems will often conduct a review as a courtesy or for a nominal fee.

You should also consider investing in these two popular compliance services that have gained traction in recent years:

  • Virtual ISO: There are several service models available, so make sure you find the one that matches your institution’s needs. (Check out our recent webinar that walks you through the pros and cons of three virtual ISO models.) For instance, Safe Systems’ ISOversight service includes a dedicated compliance specialist, along with a suite of online compliance applications to help you develop and manage your vendors, business continuity plan, Cybersecurity Assessment Tool, and information security program.
  • Vendor Management: Your assessment of a vendor should define what controls are needed to effectively mitigate risks posed by each vendor. Some critical or high-risk vendors may require reviewing documents like contracts, financials, or SOC 2 audit reports. Evaluating these documents can feel daunting because it can be time-consuming and understanding each type of document can require a different skill set. Many institutions are offloading the document review process to third-party companies to help them identify the key information in each document and better manage risk.

2. Supply Chain Issues

The supply chain issues that started during the middle of the pandemic have continued through 2022. Servers, switches, firewalls, and other hardware devices are still in limited supply. For 2023, continue to plan and order hardware well in advance of your needs. If you wait until you need it, you may encounter delays. Six months is the current lead time for certain devices. Also, when replacing a workstation in 2023, evaluate whether a laptop or desktop computer would be the best replacement. While laptops introduce some new risks due to their mobility, they also allow flexibility for users. If a laptop will enable an employee to work remotely during a disaster or pandemic, it may be more beneficial to switch to this laptop to optimize your hardware investment.

3. Cloud Security

Cloud security should continue to be top of mind. Although the Cloud offers plenty of advantages, it comes with numerous control settings, management tools, and security options that must be effectively configured and maintained to ensure the highest level of protection. This should be a key area of concern for not only institutions with infrastructure in the Cloud, but also those with M365 licenses—which include Exchange Online, SharePoint, OneDrive—or those using Microsoft Azure Active Directory as an authentication platform through a third-party provider. Too often institutions only think about hosting servers in the Cloud when it comes to cloud security. While moving infrastructure to the Cloud is a current trend, almost all institutions store some information there. Safe Systems has worked with several institutions with assets ranging from $100 million to multi-billion dollars and found that almost all of them had gaps in their cloud security when it comes to their cloud tenants. Some institutions had their email or user accounts compromised while others had the wrong M365 security settings in place, which left the door open to future compromises. Safe Systems’ CloudInsight suite of products includes M365 Security and Utility Basics solutions to detect common risks and help institutions better manage the increasing array of M365 security settings and controls. These reasonably priced options deliver a substantial amount of value, so contact us for a quote to determine if our CloudInsight solution will fit into your budget next year.

4. Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity must stay top of mind for both your institution and its employees. If you do not have a solution to train and test your staff on information security best practices, consider investing in one next year. These are typically not expensive solutions, and they provide exceptional value—as well as critical protection. It is estimated that cyberattacks are 300 times more likely to be targeted against financial services firms than other companies. If that isn’t enough to keep you up at night, then consider that Cybersecurity Ventures expects global cybercrime costs to reach $10.5 trillion annually by 2025—and will be more profitable than the global trade of all major illegal drugs combined. Remember, where the money is, the crooks will follow. Every year you must evaluate your current security layers and decide if they are still effective and if you have enough of them in place.

“If it were measured as a country, then cybercrime—which is thought to have inflicted damages totaling $6 trillion USD globally in 2021—would be the world’s third-largest economy after the U.S. and China.”

Preparing for next year requires you to first evaluate where you are this year. You could decide to simply “rinse and repeat” what you did this year, but that would be a missed opportunity to really understand what is working, what isn’t, and what can be improved. Also, consider your institution’s short- and long-term plans. Sometimes what makes sense today doesn’t make sense when compared to your future plans for growth, increased redundancy, and more. While you can’t predict the future, you can at least ensure your 2023 budget reflects your best guess for where your institution is headed.

01 Sep 2022
Addressing the Growing Ransomware Problem

Addressing the Growing Ransomware Problem

Addressing the Growing Ransomware Problem

Ransomware has become the leading cyber threat to businesses today—and it is growing at an alarming rate. Threat actors, who often work in groups, continue to evolve and create different ransomware strains. They rebrand themselves and resurface under new identities, making it difficult to curtail their criminal activities. Ransomware has continued its upward trend with an almost 13% rise—an increase as big as the last five years combined, according to the 2022 Verizon “2022 Data Breach Investigations Report.” And the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center Annual Report stated recorded 3,729 ransomware complaints in 2021 with adjusted losses of more than $49.2 million.

The pervasive nature of the ransomware problem affects all types of companies, sectors, and industries worldwide. Approximately 37 percent of global organizations were targeted by a ransomware attack in 2021, based on the IDC’s “2021 Ransomware Study.” And in February 2022, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) reported that fourteen of the 16 US critical infrastructure sectors had ransomware incidents.

The Impact

Ransomware is malicious software or malware that locks victims out of their computing devices or blocks access to files until they pay a ransom. More sophisticated versions can encrypt files and folders on attached drives and even networked computers, raising the stakes even higher. (In all cases, the FBI does not support paying a ransom in response to a ransomware attack.)

Typically, ransomware gets installed on a workstation using a social engineering technique such as phishing. It tricks people into clicking on a link or opening an attachment and disclosing their login information or even financial data. Regardless of the threat vector used, a ransomware infection can wreak havoc on victims, causing extensive business interruptions, legal expenses, and reputational damage. According to IBM’s Cost of a Data Breach 2022 report, the average cost of a ransomware breach, not including the ransom payment, declined slightly, from USD 4.62 million to USD 4.54 million. However, the frequency of ransomware breaches has increased — from 7.8% of breaches in the 2021 report to 11% in the 2022 study. In certain industries, an attack may be considered a data breach and involve even more negative consequences. For instance, financial institutions and other critical infrastructure agencies may be required to pay fines for an attack due to their failure to protect clients’ data.

Cybercriminals are shifting away from ransomware attacks that merely demand a payment to unlock the victim’s data or device. They are focusing on more multidimensional extortion methods to extract a larger reward. IBM Security’s 2022 “X-Force Threat Intelligence Index” report indicates that virtually all ransomware assaults today are “double extortion” attacks that demand a ransom to unlock data and prevent its theft. Some attackers opt to exfiltrate sensitive data, so they can present additional ransom demands in the future. They may also sell personal data—credit card numbers, email addresses, online credentials, or bank account information—to make the fraud even more lucrative.

Best Practices

Security is a complicated issue, which makes staying on top of threats and vulnerabilities challenging. Financial institutions must complete a myriad of time-consuming and complex tasks to maintain a strong security posture. Addressing ransomware can be particularly difficult for community banking institutions with limited internal technical expertise and resources. And there is only so much an institution can do to stay vigilant against ransomware threats.

However, institutions can reduce their risk by implementing some key security strategies such as:

  • Having a well-trained staff because most ransomware intrusions are caused by human error.
  • Having overlapping security products and or services to cover the protection of systems and networks.
  • Having well-designed network infrastructure with security in mind.
  • Having a proper incident response plan that can be adhered to in the event of a breach.

Using a Managed Service Provider

Financial institutions that put mitigating systems, processes, and practices in place will be better positioned to prevent, detect, and recover from a ransomware breach. However, many smaller institutions may lack the resources and knowledge in-house to close security gaps and circumvent attacks. They can remedy the situation by employing the products and services of a managed service provider to strengthen their security posture.

Safe Systems provides a wide range of layered security solutions to help institutions address the risk of ransomware. Our security offerings include behavior-based vulnerability monitoring, advanced endpoint protection, vulnerable systems patching, next-generation firewalls, email software security, and staff training. These products and services deliver essential overlapping protection, and they are specially designed to meet the needs of community banks and credit unions.

Also, stay tuned for our upcoming white paper that will provide more data on the current state of ransomware and how banking institutions can better minimize the risks of an attack.

14 Jul 2022
How to Always Be Prepared for a Cyberattack

How to Always Be Prepared for a Cyberattack

How to Always Be Prepared for a Cyberattack

Cybersecurity attacks have been ramping up nationwide, and the FBI expects the trend to continue. Americans reported 847,376 complaints in 2021, a 7-percent increase from 2020, according to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center’s 2021 Internet Crime Report. Many of the complaints filed in 2021 involved ransomware, phishing, data breach, and business email compromise. Financial services is one of the critical infrastructure sectors that are most frequently targeted by ransomware attacks.

However, here are five best practices that if effectively implemented, managed, and monitored can ensure that your financial institution is always prepared for a cyberattack:

1. Authentication

Passwords have become more complicated to create, remember, and maintain. Twenty years ago, passwords consisted of a simple string of characters. Now they are more complex, requiring a combination of numbers, symbols, and upper- and lower-case letters. Increasingly, user management tools allow institutions to take advantage of robust authentication options like multifactor authentication (MFA). MFA adds extra elements and more security to the sign-on process, which is why users should employ it whenever possible to log in to any network or system at your institution. This is especially important for higher-risk situations that involve network administrator accounts, virtual private network access, and critical management applications.

MFA is one of the most important cybersecurity practices to reduce the risk of intrusions. Users who enable MFA are up to 99 percent less likely to have an account compromised, according to a joint advisory issued by the FBI and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. “Every organization should enforce MFA for all employees and customers, and every user should sign up for MFA when available,” the advisory states.

2. Patch Management

Patching can be a constant and tedious process as it requires keeping up with updates from numerous sources and applications. This can entail patching a plethora of Microsoft products, along with banking and lending applications, PDF readers, virtualization applications, database applications, ATM software, and more. Not patching a security hole in any of these could lead to a massive security breach with catastrophic implications for institutions. It’s imperative to maintain a list of all approved applications and monitoring software on the network as well as have an update policy and a clearly defined process for each application. Major breaches have happened because a single patch was missing on a single device. Patch management cannot be ignored or treated as an afterthought.

3. Email Security and End User Best Practices

Understanding email, specifically phishing techniques, is one of the most critical aspects of being prepared for a cyberattack. While financial institutions are frequently targeted by phishing attacks, following these best practices can help to prevent business email compromise:

  • Augment your email solution with effective scanning software. This can help identify SPAM and phishing emails before they reach employees.
  • Train employees to recognize phony phishing emails, so they can “think before they click.” These bogus emails can be difficult to spot unless you know what you are looking for; e.g., poor grammar and spelling, links that don’t match the domain, unsolicited attachments, etc.
  • Test employees to see how well they respond to a realistic phishing attempt. Invest in a program that lets you send fake phishing messages and track which employees fail the test, so you can offer additional training to those who need it.

4. Backups

Backups play a crucial role in file recovery, disaster recovery, and ransomware attacks. To successfully bounce back from a cyberattack, institutions need to have all backup scenarios sufficiently covered, including file-level backups, disaster recovery backups, Veeam backups (for virtual servers), and SQL/database backups. While most institutions use a combination of different backup solutions, the key objective is to back up files offline or in the cloud, so they are not connected to your network. Then if a ransomware attack strikes the network, your offline and cloud backups will not be affected.

5. Vendor Risk Management

Vendor management can have a dramatic impact on the overall success of your information security plan. If you outsource to a vendor with inadequate security protocols, their weakness essentially becomes your weakness. 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 to achieve a level of residual risk that is within your risk appetite.

There’s no silver bullet when it comes to resisting a cyberattack but focusing on the five areas above can significantly increase your institution’s cyber resiliency. Safe Systems offers a range of technology, compliance, and security solutions that are exclusively designed for community banks and credit unions. Contact us to learn how we can help you implement these five and other best practices.

17 Feb 2022
Microsoft Azure and 365 Security Basics Featured Blog Image_Featured Image

Microsoft Azure and 365 Security Basics

Microsoft Azure and 365 Security Basics Featured Blog Image_Featured Image

Financial Institutions that employ Microsoft 365 (also known as M365 and formerly branded as Office 365) are in the Cloud, and therefore, face a growing number of cyber threats. Consider this: The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) has seen a 400-percent increase in cybersecurity complaints since the pandemic started.

The surge in cybercrimes means financial institutions that use M365 need to focus on protecting their assets in the Cloud. Our CloudInsight™ M365 Security Basics makes it easy and affordable for institutions to start the process. M365 Security Basics provides visibility into security settings for Microsoft Azure Active Directory (Azure AD) and M365. Banks and credit unions can leverage this multi-faceted solution to get ahead of cyber threats and enhance cloud security.

Importance of Customizing Your Azure AD and M365 Settings

Your financial institution likely has a Microsoft tenant with Azure AD, whether you realize it or not. This is partly because every exchange online and M365 implementation requires the creation of a Microsoft tenant and Azure AD, even if the services are managed through a third party. There are also many other scenarios requiring the creation a Microsoft tenant, making it rare for most institutions not to have one.

It is important to understand whether you have a Microsoft tenant with Azure AD because the tenant belongs to your institution—not the licensing reseller—it is your obligation to know how to manage the security settings in these systems, including Azure AD, M365, and Exchange Online. This can be challenging because Microsoft’s default settings might conflict with your institution’s security and compliance requirements. Therefore, you must customize these settings to create more sophisticated and appropriate security, identity, and compliance policies for your institution. This should entail building policies around what users are allowed to do, what your institution’s risk assessment defines, what your institution’s compliance policies dictate, and what users will tolerate.

Once your institution has sufficient policies in place, it is essential to monitor for exceptions with reporting and alerting. And with the proper license, you can further enhance cloud security by optimizing the settings for Azure AD Premium P1, Intune, and Azure Information Protection.

How M365 Security Basics Can Help

Microsoft is constantly adjusting its platforms and automatically enabling new features to adapt to an ever-evolving security environment, making it difficult for banks and credit unions to keep up. Partnering with a value-added technology expert like Safe Systems can help you better manage your M365 tenant. Our M365 Security Basics service identifies cloud security blind spots and common risks such as compromised user accounts, enabled insecure protocols, and targeted phishing or SPAM attacks.

M365 Security Basics key services:

  • Reporting – Collects Microsoft data that may not be readily available to institutions and assembles it in a user-friendly format
  • Alerting – Delivers notifications for the most common indicators of compromise in Microsoft M365 tenants
  • Quarterly reviews – Provide a vital, objective look at M365 Security Basics reports to help institutions determine the optimal security settings for their requirements

The Importance of MFA

An invaluable security control financial institutions should also consider implementing is multi-factor authentication (MFA). MFA applies a combination of factors to validate people’s identity before giving them access to sensitive data, account information, and other assets. MFA offers effective, low-cost protection against cyberattacks and other threats; and not implementing this security feature in Azure AD is risky. According to Microsoft, 99.9 percent of account compromises can be blocked with MFA, but the overall MFA adoption rate we have seen in the financial industry is only around 46 percent.

The bottom line: Microsoft is constantly enabling and disabling features in Azure AD and M365—, therefore, financial institutions must be able to manage the complexities of optimizing their security, identity, and compliance settings. To learn more about how your institution can customize Azure AD and M365 settings to enhance cloud security, read our “Azure and M365 Security Basics” white paper.

08 Dec 2021
5 Compliance Lessons Learned in 2021 to Bring into the New Year

5 Compliance Lessons Learned in 2021 to Bring into the New Year

5 Compliance Lessons Learned in 2021 to Bring into the New Year

As the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic persist, there are important compliance trends and new regulatory guidance that financial institutions should consider to ensure they are well prepared to begin the New Year.

Accounting for Operational Risk

During the pandemic, banks and credit unions have made necessary adjustments that have increased their operational risk. Two prime examples are switching to a remote workforce and accommodating a more remote customer base. Having employees work remotely extends an institution’s network out to that endpoint and, in effect, broadens security considerations to that point as well. Serving a remote customer base—including expanding e-banking and implementing electronic signatures—creates a similar risk. Security implications multiply as more employees and customers access services electronically.

Rapid changes in operational practices and increases in fraud and cyberthreats can cause a heightened operational risk environment if not properly managed. Examiners will want an account of how institutions determined what changes were necessary, how those modifications were implemented, whether those changes were temporary or permanent, and if controls (primary and compensating) have been adjusted for any resulting operational risk increases. They will review the steps management has taken to evaluate and adjust controls for new and modified operational processes. For instance, for permanent changes, did the institution factor in the operational risk of downtime relating to the new processes?

As a measure of governance effectiveness, examiners will also very likely:

  • Assess actions that management has taken to adapt fraud and cybersecurity controls to address the heightened risk associated with the altered operating environment.
  • Review management’s post-crisis efforts to assess the controls and service delivery performance capabilities of third parties.
  • Consider how imprudent cost-cutting, insufficient staffing, or delays in implementing necessary updates impacted the control environment.

Temporary vs. Permanent Changes

For the most part, because we are still dealing with the impact of the virus and its variants, institutions have chosen to maintain many of the temporary measures they implemented during the pandemic. So, because they may have rolled out the changes anticipating an eventual rollback, it may be necessary to “backfill” some documentation to address what is now permanent. Examiners will want to know if the changes were properly risk-assessed prior to implementation, including any new processes and interdependencies. Institutions should be able to provide a report to regulators if they ask—and ensure their board is appropriately updated. This could be a matter of going back and reviewing previous board reports to ensure that any gaps in their risk management reporting were addressed and properly reported to the board.

Ransomware Self-Assessment Tool (R-SAT)

With the pervasive occurrence of cyberattacks, regulators are increasingly concerned about cybersecurity, particularly reducing ransomware. Consequently, regulators in some states are more aggressive than others about having institutions fill out the Ransomware Self-Assessment Tool (R-SAT), which is based on the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) cybersecurity framework. However, most state regulators we’ve spoken with are not going to make completing the R-SAT compulsory—although they may recommend it. If they do, the majority of what is asked by the 16-question tool should already be in place in the institution’s existing incident response and business continuity plans. Your decision to complete or not should be based on a self-assessment of your existing efforts in this area.

Regulatory Updates

New Architecture, Infrastructure, and Operations (AIO) Booklet

Earlier this year, the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC) revamped its Information Technology Examination Handbook series with a new Architecture, Infrastructure, and Operations booklet. The revised guidance provides examiners with fundamental examination expectations about architecture and infrastructure planning, governance and risk management, and operations of regulated entities. Credit unions, banks, and non-financial, third-party service providers are expected to comply with the new guidance, which replaces the original “Operations” booklet issued in July 2004.

The FFIEC indicates that the release of the updated booklet is warranted because of the close integration between institutions’ architecture, infrastructure, and operations. “Updates to the booklet reflect the changing technological environment and increasing need for security and resilience, including architectural design, infrastructure implementation, and operation of information technology systems,” explains a June 2021 FFIEC press release.

An important component of the new booklet is the resilience and proactive measures that must be built into an institution’s AIO components. Importantly, the handbook also recognizes special treatment for smaller or less complex entities, which is reasonable because examiners are starting to indicate that smaller entities will often implement these concepts differently from large, multinational, multi-regional financial organizations, while still achieving the same objectives. The refreshed guidance also takes a different approach to data classification; it factors in value, along with criticality and sensitivity. However, (and this is consistent with all FFIEC Handbooks released in the past 3 years) the new booklet states that it does not impose requirements on entities; instead, it describes principles and practices examiners will review to assess an entity’s AIO functions. (Of course, we have always found that anything an examiner may use to evaluate, or grade, your practices becomes in effect a de facto requirement.) A much deeper dive into the booklet is here.

New Cyber Incident Notification Rules

Another big update that will impact 2022 and beyond, the new cyber incident notification rules. Officially called “Computer-Security Incident Notification Requirements for Banking Organizations and Their Bank Service Providers”, they were proposed and submitted for comment in early 2021, approved in November 2021, and become effective in April 2022. Visit our partner site, ComplianceGuru.com, to read the latest post and gain an understanding of how these rules will impact both you and your third-party providers going forward.

To learn more about these and other critical compliance topics, listen to our webinar on “2021 Hot Topics in Compliance: Mid-Year Update.”

06 Dec 2021
How Layered Security Can Address Growing Cyberthreats

How Layered Security Can Address Growing Cyberthreats

How Layered Security Can Address Growing Cyberthreats

With the increasing complexity of cyberattacks, financial institutions need to implement more effective—and comprehensive—security measures. They need a variety of elements to create a layered approach to secure their data, infrastructure, and other resources from potential cyberthreats.

Many organizations rely on a castle-and-moat network security model where everyone inside the network is trusted by default. (Think of the network as the castle and the network perimeter as the moat.) No one outside the network is able to access data on the inside, but everyone inside the network can. However, security gaps may still exist in this model and others. The best approach to compensate for gaps is to surround the network with layers of security.

The basic “table stakes” for a layered security approach include a perimeter firewall with content filtering, email threat filters, an endpoint malware solution, and a robust patch management process. Banks and credit unions could also invest in additional and more sophisticated layers but each one will have associated acquisition and management costs, along with ongoing maintenance. So, it’s prudent for institutions to invest only in the number of layers/solutions they can competently manage.

Key Concerns

Today the top IT security concern for many organizations is ransomware. Due to the proactive measures many financial institutions have taken, the banking industry has fewer security breaches than health care and some other industries thus far. However, when a breach does happen to a financial institution, the impact is more costly than breaches occurring in other industries.

Four-Layer Security Formula

With these concerns in mind, here’s a four-layer “recipe” organizations can employ to improve their security posture:

  • Training and Testing: Using email phishing tests can serve as a good foundation for minimizing BEC and other social engineering threats.
  • Network Design: Institutions should refresh older networks to segment their components into different zones. It’s no longer sufficient to have servers, workstations, and printers sitting in one IP space together.
  • Domain Name System (DNS) filtering: DNS filtering prevents potentially damaging traffic from ever reaching the network. Because it proactively blocks threats, this makes it one of the most effective and affordable security layers institutions can apply.
  • Endpoint Protection: Institutions should have this type of protection on each of their endpoints, and the best endpoint protection tools have built-in ransomware solutions.

Other Important Considerations

It’s important to back up data regularly and ensure that those backups are well beyond the reach of ransomware and other threats. (Backups done to a local server that’s on-site and are still on the network may be susceptible to ransomware.) One way to address this issue is to have immutable backups, which are backup files that can’t be altered in any way and can deploy to production servers immediately in case of ransomware attacks or other data loss. Another option is to send backups to a cloud solution like Microsoft Azure Storage, which is affordable and easy to integrate because there are no servers to manage.

Another crucial element in security is Transport Layer Security/Secure Sockets Layer (TLS/SSL) encryption protocol, which can be somewhat of a double-edged sword. About 80 percent of website traffic is encrypted to protect it from unauthorized users during transmission. Traditional firewalls don’t have the ability to scrutinize traffic against a content filtering engine, which means savvy hackers can hide ransomware and other dangerous content inside. But firewalls with advanced features are capable of TLS/SSL inspection; they can decrypt content, analyze it for threats, and then re-encrypt the traffic before entering or leaving the network.

There’s an array of security solutions that institutions can implement to establish layered protection against cyber threats. For more insights about this topic, listen to our webinar on “Cyber Threats, Why You Need a Layered Approach.”

23 Nov 2021
Importance of Security Layers

Importance of Security Layers

Importance of Security Layers

In the past, it wasn’t uncommon for organizations to maintain basic information security: a firewall, anti-malware software, and maybe a few other resources. But modern operating environments require financial institutions to go beyond limited measures and implement multiple security layers to protect their sensitive information, infrastructure, and other assets.

Today banks and credit unions have a variety of elements that comprise their computer networks, and these components require numerous security solutions for them to operate securely. There’s no such thing as having too many solutions—although some entities invest in more resources than they can competently manage. The most appropriate approach is for institutions to employ all the security layers they can afford to pay for and oversee effectively.

The security landscape has changed significantly over the years. With the evolution of technology, cybercriminals are launching more frequent and sophisticated attacks against organizations. (The bad guys have it easy; they only have to get it right once. Security professionals, on the other hand, have to get it right all the time.) Currently, the top security threats for financial institutions are a remote workforce, ransomware, and the Internet of Things devices like webcams, Amazon Alexa, and Google Chromecast.

Security Considerations

Financial institutions often select security products based on what their security posture requires to pass exams. But the emergence of new threats is motivating more institutions to select solutions not just based on examiner expectations, but to also consider what is essential for operational safety. Generally, the security products that institutions invest in are determined by their cost and ability to mitigate risk.

For the most part, the financial services industry is interested in solutions that require minimal management involvement and customization to be effective. The industry also tends to adopt solutions once they’ve reached a certain level of commoditization and are priced lower. For example, well-commoditized solutions like anti-virus agents and anti-ransomware tools allow institutions to protect against expensive threats for the minimum cost. An effective anti-malware agent—especially one with some specific anti-ransomware technology—is another essential layer for endpoint protection.

Ultimately, increased competition leads to technology innovation and consolidation. A good example of this is what’s happened with firewalls. Implementing a firewall used to equate to a simple router that separated public and private networks. Things evolved when people began adding dedicated appliances like intrusion detection and prevention systems, antivirus gateways, web content filters, and other technologies. Through commoditization, these different elements became consolidated into the firewall to create a unified threat management system. More recent innovations that allow institutions to inspect encrypted traffic and sandbox potentially hazardous traffic have ushered in the next-generation firewall.

Going Beyond Basic Requirements

A fundamental requirement for layered security is multi-factor authentication (MFA), which involves several elements for validating the identity of users. While some organizations have concerns about MFA negatively impacting user experience, the technology provides an advanced level of protection that strengthens security.

Transport Layer Security is now implemented to secure over 80% of web traffic. The TLS protocol is used to encrypt data between a web browser and a website. While this is great for user privacy, it prevents institutions from inspecting all user traffic for threats. Transport Layer Security (TLS) Inspection has become a more common—and critical—security tactic for financial institutions. TLS inspection allows institutions to decrypt and inspect TLS traffic, so they can filter out malicious information and protect their network.

The increased adoption of endpoint security and other innovative technologies is making it easier for financial institutions to implement a layered approach to security. Safe Systems offers a wide range of security solutions to help community banks and credit unions incorporate multiple levels of protection to enhance their security posture.

21 Oct 2021
The Importance of Cybersecurity, not Just in October—but All Year Long

The Importance of Cybersecurity, not Just in October—but All Year Long

The Importance of Cybersecurity, not Just in October—but All Year Long

Do Your Part. #BeCyberSmart.

With October being Cybersecurity Awareness Month, it’s the opportune time for everyone to focus on online safety and to become more cyber savvy. This month, the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) are encouraging all Americans to do their part and be cyber smart. This means organizations and individuals need to own their role in protecting cyberspace, which requires taking personal accountability and proactive steps to enhance cybersecurity.

The first step to increasing cybersecurity is to understand its importance. Cybersecurity, according to the CISA, is the art of protecting networks, devices, and data from unauthorized access or criminal use and the practice of ensuring the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of information. And the importance of applying effective strategies to keep computer systems and electronic data secure is growing as cybercrime rises. But the key to enhancing cybersecurity is to recognize the hazards that can threaten online safety: malware erasing an entire computer system; a hacker breaking into a system and altering files; someone using another person’s computer to attack others; or an intruder stealing credit card information and making unauthorized purchases.

To minimize the risk of cyberattacks, organizations should consider implementing these best practices from the CISA:

  • Keep software up to date by installing software patches to prevent hackers from taking advantage of known problems or vulnerabilities.
  • Run up-to-date antivirus software to automatically detect, quarantine, and remove various types of malware.
  • Install a firewall to prevent cyberattacks by blocking malicious traffic before it can enter a computer system.
  • Employ multi-factor authentication (MFA) to validate users’ identity.
  • Change default usernames and passwords, which are readily available and can be used by malicious actors.
  • Select strong passwords that will be difficult for attackers to guess and use different passwords for different programs and devices.
  • Beware of suspicious emails that may be engineered to steal information and money or install malware on devices. 

While taking precautions cannot guarantee complete protection against hackers, improving cybersecurity practices can certainly help. It’s also important to become more knowledgeable about effective strategies for reducing cybersecurity risks, which is a major goal of Cybersecurity Awareness Month. In addition, Cybersecurity Awareness Month, formerly called National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, strives to ensure that individuals and organizations have the resources they need to be safer online. People can take advantage of the CISA’s cybersecurity tips, cyber essentials, and other information to become more cyber smart—not just this month, but throughout the year.

Safe Systems also offers a wide range of resources to help financial institutions enhance their cybersecurity and protect the confidentiality, integrity and availability of their information. Our multi-layered security suite, which is designed to protect vulnerability points inside and outside the network, includes DNS filtering, endpoint protection, next-generation firewall, security event log monitoring, and vulnerability monitoring. Community banks and credit unions can implement these security services to improve their cybersecurity posture, prevent cyberattacks and keep their operations running smoothly.

13 Oct 2021
Stories from the Front Lines

Stories from the Front Lines: How Real Financial Institutions Handled an O365/M365 Cloud Security Compromise

Stories from the Front Lines

Microsoft 365 (formerly Office 365) comes with an array of settings that customers can modify to enhance their security controls. When these settings are not effectively adjusted though, serious cloud security compromises can ensue. Our M365 Security Basics solution helps financial institutions detect and respond to potential problems. From our recent webinar, here are real-life stories about financial institutions (whose names have been changed) that had their cloud security compromised. See how they handled each situation, so you can learn what to do and not do to secure your O365/M365 account.

Loan Officer – Email Forwarding

Luke, a loan officer, is constantly emailing people inside and outside his organization. He often sends sensitive information but uses encryption to protect his outbound emails and multi-factor authentication (MFA) to protect his identity. Somehow his email account was compromised—for eight whole months—before the problem was discovered. Our M365 Security Basics reporting indicated there was an issue with his email being forwarded to an external domain. We worked with the IT administration team to confirm that a suspicious Yahoo address was not an authorized send-to address for the emails Luke had been receiving. The intruders’ cunning scheme involved a modified mailbox setting that predated Luke’s MFA setup and the other precautions Luke had implemented. We were able to resolve the compromise by removing the forwarding property. Moving forward, Luke’s IT team needs to keep a close watch to ensure the organization’s email accounts are protected.

IT Administrator – Global Auditing

Han works at a smaller organization and wears multiple hats as an IT, compliance, and security administrator. While he’s not well versed in cloud security, Han thinks the cloud is the best option for his organization. He selects various Microsoft cloud resources and works with a vendor to establish a tenant in Azure Active Directory (Azure AD), which is a requirement for O365/M365. Han provisions his account administrative rights in Azure, synchronizes users and passwords, and gets help training end-users on Microsoft 365 services like OneDrive, SharePoint, and Teams. Then he notices an Azure AD account that he and his team have never seen—and the name of the account is strangely almost identical to an existing end-user. Han called our support staff for assistance and learned that his global administrator account had been compromised. To make matters worse, Han had left his security settings at defaults and had not enabled global auditing, which meant there was no way to determine what the attacker had changed in the system. The best solution was to move the organization’s data, email, and identities to a brand new Microsoft tenant. This extensive migration project could have likely been avoided if Han had enabled MFA and the proper audit settings.

HR – External Document Sharing

Human resources vice president Leah employs a variety of technologies to facilitate working from home and the office. Leah relies on the Cloud, and desktop and mobile apps to access documents on all her devices and enjoys using Teams to share files with others in her organization. Using these technology services has caused her to inadvertently place the company at risk of exposure and identity compromise because her IT administration team had not implemented the appropriate security controls for all their organization’s licensed technology services, creating a security gap. Luckily, the IT team received an M365 Security Basics alert for a file being shared externally in OneDrive, which is a common alert that we see. There was also enough data in the alert to indicate the multiple bad security, identity, and compliance practices that Leah has. The IT team resolved these issues by reducing the default sharing levels of SharePoint Online and OneDrive and retraining Leah on good and bad practices for security, identity, and compliance.

CEO – Multifactor Authentication

As the CEO of his organization, Chewy’s contact information is very public; his email address is prominently displayed on the company’s website, LinkedIn, and other social media platforms. Chewy uses multiple devices to get work done in the office and at home. He often signs into whatever computer is handy, whether it’s his or his wife’s laptop. Chewy’s account is under attack in Azure AD from a Russian IP. M365 Security Basics Alerting was able to notify his IT team of this by way of the Large Number of Failed Sign Ins for a Single User alert. Unfortunately, the IT department did not require MFA registration for most of the organization’s users, including Chewy, even after being alerted to the attack. The Russian attackers eventually compromised Chewy’s account. Once they did, our alerting engine promptly notified the IT team of a successful sign-in from outside of the USA, which they promptly responded to, limiting the amount of time the account was compromised.

Listen to the full stories or watch the complete webinar.

11 Oct 2021
What Financial Institutions Should Budget for in 2022

What Financial Institutions Should Budget for in 2022

What Financial Institutions Should Budget for in 2022

Many of us thought 2021 was going to be the downhill side of the pandemic. I recall working on a webinar presentation that we hosted last summer and including the words, “Now that the pandemic is behind us…” Obviously, I was overly optimistic. As we look ahead to 2022, we must acknowledge that the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to affect us to one degree or another. With that said, these budgeting ideas for 2022 may look somewhat similar to those for 2021, but there are slight variations based on current banking technology, compliance, and security issues.

1. Multifactor Authentication

Implement multifactor authentication (MFA) on all your email accounts wherever it is possible and appropriate. MFA can reduce the risk of having account credentials compromised by as much as 99.9%, making it one of the most effective measures you can use to protect your institution. There is typically a small cost for licensing and implementing MFA software. So, you can add MFA to your email accounts for a nominal cost and with minimal effort in most cases. If you are using Microsoft’s cloud email solution, for instance, implementing MFA can be as easy as changing a few minor settings. Another area to consider for MFA is logging into the domain account. There can be a cost associated with this as you will probably want to use a tool to help you manage the process. You can apply MFA only on accounts with administrator rights or on all users. But since many cybersecurity insurance companies are requiring MFA for accounts with administrator rights, using this stronger type of authentication might be your only option.

2. Laptops

With different variants of COVID-19 or other viruses popping up, remote work may still be an option for certain employees. Remote capabilities may even be necessary to keep the institution operating smoothly at times. Be sure you have the infrastructure in place for a partial remote workforce because the need could develop at any point. For this reason, you should consider providing laptops for all employees who could conceivably work from home. Start with those who need new devices. Then prioritize based on those doing the highest-level work necessary to keep the institution running. Laptops and encryption software, required for mobile devices, may cost slightly more but should not cause a huge increase in expenditures. In some cases, you may be able to reuse a desktop computer to replace an older workstation for an employee whose duties cannot be performed remotely.

And don’t forget… There is a chip shortage and high demand for laptops, which means it can take months to secure computers and other hardware. So, order any equipment you need well in advance to ensure you have the appropriate infrastructure in place to support staff that may need to work from home.

3. Moving to the Cloud

Having infrastructure in the cloud can be extremely beneficial, so slowly start moving your infrastructure to the cloud. Cloud infrastructure decreases the need for an employee to be onsite with the hardware, and cloud computing increases uptime. In addition, disaster recovery becomes easier and faster with cloud infrastructure. More than 90% of Fortune 500 companies are running at least some infrastructure in the cloud, primarily through Microsoft’s cloud computing platform: Azure. The cloud is the future of IT and infrastructure, and it makes sense for institutions that need reliable and resilient infrastructures. So, if you need to purchase a server next year, consider getting a quote for moving the server to the cloud instead.

4. Cloud Security

While the cloud offers plenty of advantages, it comes with settings, management tools, and security options that must be effectively configured and managed to ensure the highest level of security in the cloud. Cloud security is a concern for not only institutions with infrastructure in the cloud, but also for M365 Windows/Office licensees with OneDrive enabled, email in the cloud, or using Microsoft as an authentication mechanism with a third-party application. Earlier this year, the FDIC released a letter outlining the need to secure cloud configurations. Their cloud-security concerns are warranted. Safe Systems has worked with several institutions ranging from a hundred million in assets up to multibillion dollars in assets and found that almost every institution had gaps in their cloud security. Some institutions had indications of their email or user accounts being compromised; others had settings that could open the door to future compromises. Safe Systems worked closely with these institutions to develop an innovative M365 Security solution to address these issues with reports, alerts, and reviews. This unique product is specifically designed to help financial institutions manage their cloud setup now and in the future. In addition, it is a reasonably priced option for the substantial amount of value that it delivers. Institutions should reach out for a quote to determine if M365 Security could fit into their budget next year.

5. Virtual ISO

Another item to consider for your budget is virtual Information Security Officer or VISO services, which we also mentioned last year. These services have become increasingly popular as the landscape of information security has grown more extensive and complex. In many cases, institutions are finding it harder to keep up with the latest information security expectations, regulations, and trends. Safe Systems’ ISOversight service addresses this problem by combining applications for self-management with assistance from compliance experts to offer a VISO service at a competitive price. This type of service can be beneficial in many ways as it can provide structure, automation, accountability, assistance, and consistency throughout your information security program. It can also enable your institution to stay engaged, which is critical when an exam or audit occurs. VISO services, which vary in price depending on the work being performed by the third-party provider, are ideal for any institution with limited access to security expertise in-house.

6. Cybersecurity

You cannot have a conversation about budgets for next year without addressing the issue of cybersecurity. Consider this: Cyber-attacks are 300 times more likely to hit financial services firms than other companies, a recent Boston Consulting Group report indicates. Cyber-attacks continue to climb each year, with the global cybersecurity market expected to eclipse $300 billion by 2024, according to Global Insights. And cybersecurity has become even more precarious during the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has created new opportunities for security breaches as the increase in remote work makes information security more challenging to manage. Unfortunately, institutions will need to increase their security layers and annual spending to address this issue. According to Computer Services Inc. (CSI), 59% of financial institutions will increase spending for cybersecurity this year.

In Conclusion

The threat to your institution’s data is as real today as it ever has been. Therefore, make sure you are applying these measures to strengthen your security:

  • Employee training to ensure adequate, effective, and safe practices
  • Perimeter protection to ensure the appropriate layers are enabled and all traffic is being handled correctly, including encrypted traffic
  • Advanced threat protection and logging to be able to identify how, if at all, malware or an intrusion created an incident
  • Backup and data redundancy to ensure ransomware cannot wipe out your data

Have a conversation with a security company you trust to ensure that, if you are the target of a ransomware attack, your business won’t sustain long-term damage. In other words, invest in cybersecurity now, so your institution won’t end up paying more later.

As you contemplate your budget for 2022, don’t just think about the items that others have put on your plate. Be sure to consider the changes that may have occurred at your institution—and the ones that may be coming—and have a plan to address these. All these changes can be exciting and make a major difference for your institution. But they can often be hard to get implemented if they are not budgeted for ahead of time.

29 Sep 2021
Understanding Microsoft O365/M365 Settings to Ensure Your Security Controls Are Effective

Understanding Microsoft O365/M365 Settings to Ensure Your Security Controls Are Effective

Understanding Microsoft O365/M365 Settings to Ensure Your Security Controls Are Effective

It’s important for financial institutions to understand Microsoft Office 365 (O365) and M365 settings, so they can optimize the security controls and quickly detect potential areas of compromise. The educational journey begins with acknowledging the role of Azure Active Directory (Azure AD), Microsoft’s cloud-based user authentication platform.

When your institution purchased O365 (recently rebranded as M365), it established a Microsoft tenant with Azure AD. Since that tenant belongs to you and your institution—not the licensing reseller—it is your responsibility to understand Azure AD and its controls. This is where you can customize the settings to create more sophisticated and appropriate security policies for your institution.

Monitoring for Exceptions to Security Controls

Once your institution has good policies in place, it’s essential to monitor for exceptions. There are so many security controls to check; it can be difficult to know if there is a policy exception or even an active compromise. As an added challenge, some controls can have a major impact on the user experience, and these controls cannot be created arbitrarily by a third party simply based on what is presumed to be best practice.

Therefore, you must build policies around what users are allowed to do, what your institution’s risk assessment defines, and what users will tolerate. Making appropriate policy-related adjustments to O365/M365 requires knowing how to connect with and analyze specific Microsoft data to modify the related security controls. Microsoft has created a plethora of controls, which can be difficult for many customers to navigate. That’s where it can be beneficial to partner with a value-added reseller like Safe Systems.

M365 Security Basics

Safe Systems consults with clients to help them best use O365/M365 controls and uncover their cloud security “blind spots.” M365 Security Basics is the first CloudInsight™ offering that provides visibility into security settings for Azure Active Directory and O365/M365 tenants.

M365 Security Basics consists of three main parts—reporting, alerting, and quarterly reviews— that your institution can choose from based on its needs. The reporting feature pulls Microsoft data that may not be easily accessible and compiles it into a user-friendly format. The reports show the fundamental settings at a glance, so institutions can track configuration changes over time. There are summary reports that IT administrators can use to quickly identify anomalies in their organization as well as detailed reports that include the specifics of a given anomaly.

While reporting generates important ongoing details, it can produce a substantial amount of information for you to review. Alerts can notify you as soon as possible about the most common setting changes or activity that can represent an indicator of compromise, so you can investigate and respond.

With the quarterly review component, Safe Systems will help you walk through the content of all your reports and discuss your overall strategy for adjusting the configurations. Having all this data at your fingertips makes it easier to make assessments to determine which settings are right for your organization. Two key settings to enable are multi-factor authentication—which should be universal for every user because it adds a critical layer of protection to the user sign-in process—and auditing which is crucial for investigating changes.

Educate. Expose. Empower.

The goal of M365 Security Basics is to educate financial institutions about the unfamiliar concepts related to O365/M365, expose the reality of what they are already living today, and empower them to take action where changes are needed.

For more information about how to understand O365/M365 settings to ensure your security controls are effective, listen to our webinar on “Cloud O365-M365 Security – Do You Know if You Are Currently Compromised?”

18 Aug 2021
How Banks and Credit Unions Are Responding to Emerging Cybersecurity Threats

How Banks and Credit Unions Are Responding to Emerging Cybersecurity Threats

How Banks and Credit Unions Are Responding to Emerging Cybersecurity Threats

Cybercriminals are always looking for new ways to bypass defense measures and exploit emerging weaknesses. Today, financial institutions are fending off security threats that are more ubiquitous, complex, and costly.

As more employees than ever before engage in remote work and online collaboration, this presents a host of potential security gaps. Unsecured home Wi-Fi networks, remote servers, mobile devices, a lack of encryption, and inadequate intrusion detection software are just a few of the factors that contribute to a spike in cyber attacks.

From an internal operations standpoint, it’s equally as important for financial institutions to secure data from basic human error, as 85 percent of data breaches involve a human element, according to the Verizon 2021 Data Breach Investigations Report. Employee awareness training can be the first (and best) defense against emerging cybersecurity threats like business email compromise which is designed to trick people into processing a payment or sharing valuable information.

Leveraging the Latest Technology

Next-generation firewalls (NGFWs) and cloud platforms can also support organizations’ efforts to combat cybersecurity threats. NGFWs offer advanced features that make risk easier to detect, manage and eliminate. SSL/TLS inspection can ensure that encrypted traffic is safe to transmit over the firewall. In addition, threat feeds can help firewalls effectively analyze traffic and route potentially dangerous traffic to a virtual “sandbox,” where it can be processed securely. Automated log analysis is then used to enhance the difficult job of managing voluminous logs and resolving security issues. To learn more about how these advanced features work, listen to our recorded webinar, “Firewall Chat: A Panel Discussion on the Technical Advances in Firewalls”.

Cloud computing is also providing benefits to financial institutions to enhance their security resources. While cloud technology is nothing new, innovations from major platforms like Microsoft, Amazon and Google offer enticing advantages to moving data and business processes into the cloud. But it’s important to keep in mind that employing cloud services requires institutions to use different security practices in order to minimize data breaches and other cyber threats.

Growing Need for Insurance and Expertise

As another developing trend, more companies are adding cyber insurance to their security toolbox. A cyber insurance policy can be an effective way to mitigate risk related to financial losses from cyber attacks. But with more cybercrime happening, organizations can expect to see higher premiums, decreased limits, and changes in exclusions for certain losses.

As cybersecurity threats become more frequent, sophisticated and expensive, financial institutions need to apply more vigilance and expertise to keep hackers at bay. Safe Systems can help ensure that community banks and credit unions have the technical resources they need to effectively address the latest security issues. Managed Perimeter Defense (MPD) offers a combination of professional IT solutions, including device monitoring and management, sandbox analysis, dynamic threat feed analysis, and SSL/TLS inspection.

29 Jul 2021
2021 Hot Topics in Compliance

2021 Hot Topics in Compliance: Mid-Year Update

2021 Hot Topics in Compliance

While the COVID-19 pandemic certainly isn’t over, financial institutions have learned valuable lessons so far. In retrospect, the pandemic’s impact on community banks and credit unions hasn’t been as catastrophic as examiners had initially feared—at least not financially. Key impacts have been mostly operational, involving risk related to temporary measures taken to weather the crisis. For instance, examiners will want to know what modifications institutions have made to their operational processes to accommodate an increasingly mobile customer and member base and remote employees, and whether they accounted for additional fraud, cyber threats, or other risks as a consequence. If institutions implemented new products or services, they would need to also account for the operational risk associated with these changes—especially if additional third-party providers were involved. That said, throughout the pandemic, the overall industry demonstrated a very high level of resilience.

In addition to the post-Pandemic lessons, there are other important compliance trends and new regulatory guidance that institutions should anticipate as we approach the rest of the year:

Emphasis on Ransomware Cybersecurity

Recently, ransomware cybersecurity has been a key area of focus for regulators, and given the recent high-profile cyber events affecting the industry, their scrutiny will likely ramp up going forward. This will be reflected, in part, by the number of (and types of) assessments that they may expect financial institutions to perform on an annual basis, including the familiar Cybersecurity Assessment Tool (CAT) and newer, non-compulsory Ransomware Self-Assessment Tool (R-SAT) developed partly by the State regulatory bodies.

In addition, at the federal level, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has recently developed its Cyber Security Evaluation Tool. This tool is not specific to the financial industry but rather designed to apply to multiple industries. And the National Credit Union Association (NCUA) decided earlier this year to move away from using its version of the CAT, known as the Automated Cybersecurity Evaluation Toolbox (ACET). It’s now prioritizing a modified InTREx for Credit Unions (InTREx-CU), which is designed to enable credit unions to identify and remediate potential high-risk areas, including within the cybersecurity controls domain.

Changes with Cyber Insurance

Major shifts are also happening with cyber insurance. Because of excessive losses by the insurance industry, there will very likely be increased deductibles, increased exclusions, and decreased limits for covering cyber losses. Cyber insurance coverage—which is not an absolute requirement by regulatory agencies—is going to be more difficult and expensive to obtain. So, the lesson is: As insurance policies come due, don’t automatically renew before you assess what has changed in terms of the coverages, exclusions, and limitations, and make sure you’ve documented your cost-benefit decision.

New Guidance on Architecture, Infrastructure, and Operations

In June, the FFIEC released a new Architecture, Infrastructure, and Operations booklet in its Information Technology Examination Handbook series. The updated guidance, which replaces the “Operations” booklet issued in July 2004, acknowledges the inextricable link between an institution’s operations, architecture, and infrastructure. Or as a recent FFIEC press release states:

“The booklet discusses the interconnectedness among an entity’s assets, processes, and third-party service providers, along with the principles, processes, potential threats, and examination procedures to help examiners assess whether a financial entity’s management adequately addresses risks and complies with applicable laws and regulations.”

The booklet provides a fresh take on several concepts: It recognizes different treatments for smaller or less complex institutions and adopts a different approach to data classification by factoring in value with criticality and sensitivity. All entities—not just credit unions and banks but also non-financial, third-party service providers—are expected to adhere to the guidance.

In addition, there are also pending new rules for incident notifications for banks, service providers, and core providers, which isn’t surprising with all the recent cybersecurity attacks. Finally, examiners are also expecting more detailed board reporting, such as showing how an institution’s business continuity management plan, business strategy, and risk appetite are all aligned.

For more information about the latest expectations, compliance trends, and regulatory guidance, listen to our “2021 Hot Topics in Compliance: Mid-Year Update” webinar.

02 Apr 2021
Is Cybersecurity Your Weakest Link

Is Cybersecurity Your Weakest Link?

Is Cybersecurity Your Weakest Link

Is Cybersecurity Your Weakest Link?

The financial landscape has changed drastically in the last 20 years, one of the most notable changes being the variety of financial services now being offered online. Although the wide-spread use of internet has made it possible to receive financial guidance from anywhere in the world, it has also created an environment where sensitive information and data could potentially be compromised by cybercriminals.

Today, professional hackers are spending more time and money than ever before to gain access to personal information for both monetary gain and “professional” recognition. The sensitive information that the financial services industry has access to continues to make them a prime target for hackers and other cybercriminals. Attacks can range from malware threats, DDOS attacks, phishing attempts and data breaches – all of which bad actors can use to commit fraud themselves or sell to a third-party.

Importance of Being Secure


Cybercrime continues to be a growing problem for banks and credit unions across the country. The impact of a cybercrime can be very costly for a financial institution, both financially and from a reputational standpoint. The main risks include theft or unauthorized access to sensitive customer information along with the disruption of normal business operations.

In addition, as the number of security threats continues to increase in the financial services industry, regulators are taking a closer look at financial institutions’ policies and procedures to ensure that they can effectively safeguard confidential and non-public information. As an example, the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council’s (FFIEC) Cybersecurity Assessment Tool (CAT) is designed to ensure financial institutions are prepared in the event of a cybersecurity attack. The FFIEC CAT is now the guide regulators are using to examine institutions and determine their level of cybersecurity preparedness.

Some of the most common security threats financial institutions face today include:

Malware and Ransomware


Ransomware has established itself as one of the leading cyber threats for many organizations, but especially financial institutions. Using ransomware technologies, hackers can gain complete access and control over legitimate websites, often by encrypting data or programs, and extort ransom payments from victims in exchange for restoring access to the individual or business. Malicious software, or “malware”, is no longer characterized by simple aggravating popups and sluggish computer performance, but rather the encryption of all data on a machine, rendering it unusable.

Internet of Things (IoT) Attacks


Unsecured Internet of Things (IoT) devices such as DVRs, home routers, printers and IP cameras are vulnerable to attack since they are not required to have the same level of security as computers. To breach a financial institution, attackers will target insecure devices to create a pathway to other systems. Unsecure IoT devices are also used to launch distributed denial-of-service attacks (DDoS) against institutions. These DDoS attacks prevent legitimate users from accessing computer systems, devices or other online resources. The perpetrator floods the victim’s machine or network with false requests from various sources to overload the system and prevent legitimate access. A well-executed attack can interrupt a host of banking services including website access, ATM networks, and online banking platforms, in addition to internal systems and functions.

Phishing Scams


Phishing scams that specifically target financial institutions’ employees, attempting to obtain sensitive information such as usernames and passwords, have become increasingly common within the last few years. The goal of phishing is to direct employees to a fraudulent website where they are asked to share login credentials and other personal information. The information that employees are tricked into providing then allow for cybercriminals to read a bank or credit union’s critical information, hack into the employee’s bank and social media accounts, send emails on an employees’ behalf, and gain access to internal documents and customer financial information.

Lack of Third-Party Vendor Security


While a financial institution might have the right security systems and policies in place to protect itself and its customers from a cyber-attack, its third-party providers may not have the same level of security and diligence. This creates a major vulnerability for the financial institution. Without a proactive approach to vendor management, financial institutions are opening themselves up to increased levels of risk that can have a negative impact on the institution’s financial standing, compliance posture and overall ability to serve its customers. Federal regulators have issued guidelines to help institutions better understand and manage the risks associated with outsourcing a bank activity to a service provider. The FFIEC IT Examination Handbook was revised to help guide banks to properly establish and maintain effective vendor and third-party management programs.

Insider Threats


Often, all it takes is a disgruntled employee or ex-employee to release valuable security information and compromise system and data security. Additionally, cybercriminals are increasingly realizing success through bribery as a means to entice bank employees to give up their login credentials or other security information, allowing direct access to internal systems.

Lack of Employee Training and Security Expertise


The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly brought its share of challenges to the financial sector of business, including increased network vulnerability and internal threats as employees transitioned to a remote work environment. These changes required cybersecurity personnel to change their online security baseline and continuously adapt to the changing IT security landscape. With the increased popularity of remote work, company IT staff are encouraging employees to take charge of their own online security through testing and training. The training includes topics like the importance of password security and multi-factor authentication and helps employees understand their roles and responsibilities in protecting against security threats. Until this learning gap is resolved, financial institutions will continue to struggle to efficiently manage cybersecurity threats.

Combating Security Threats and Ensuring Institution Security


While cybersecurity has become a major point of discussion among professionals within the financial industry, the truth is that many financial institutions are too complacent when it comes to protecting themselves. With hackers using advanced technology, the “bare minimum protection” is no longer enough to keep sensitive information safe. To adequately protect against security threats, financial institutions must ensure that every device on the network has up-to-date antivirus software, adequate firewall protections and that all patches are up-to-date as a minimum requirement. In addition, financial institutions should also employ a layered security strategy, from the end-user to the internet to establish a secure IT environment. Adding preventive, detective and responsive layers to IT security strategy will help strengthen an institution’s approach and build an effective security foundation.

A uniquely tailored layered security approach enables financial institutions to:

  • Monitor antivirus for servers, workstations, and off-site laptops
  • Use services that evaluate site lookups to avoid exposure to compromised websites
  • Scan the network for vulnerabilities and detect unusual activity against hackers and rogue employees
  • Block access to all external ports while also monitoring the access of various machines
  • Meet government regulations and requirements
  • Counter extortion threats by preventing a hacker from holding your customer’s personal data for ransom with special customized software for stopping ransomware
  • Patch machines, encrypt laptops, and install alerts on new devices plugged into the network

The security landscape is constantly evolving, and it is imperative to have a solid security plan in place that accounts for this evolution. It should be a fluid document that is frequently reviewed, updated and that specifically outlines administrative, technical, and physical controls that mitigate evolving risks. It is also important to test the full plan on a regular basis to ensure all procedures can be executed successfully and verify that all regulatory requirements are met.

Managing Security Needs


Many community banks and credit unions find that managing the security needs of their organization can be a time-consuming and challenging task. To help augment the security responsibilities, these institutions are turning to financial industry-specific IT and security service providers to act as an extension of their organization, provide timely support, and help the financial institution successfully design and execute a comprehensive security strategy. The right solution provider couples security measures with an understanding of and support for the unique security and compliance demands of the financial industry.

At Safe Systems, we believe that proactively protecting customer data will always be more cost effective than falling victim to malicious activity. To that end, we have the unique expertise to ensure that financial institutions employ the right combination of both broad and specific security products to create an ecosystem of protection. Safe Systems helps secure an organization’s endpoints, devices, and users by assessing vulnerabilities, detecting unwanted network activity, safeguarding against data loss, and preventing known threats while staying ahead of developing ones.

18 Mar 2021
Top Phishing Scams and Emerging Trends Your Bank or Credit Union Staff Should Be Aware of

Top Phishing Scams and Emerging Trends Your Bank or Credit Union Staff Should Be Aware of

Top Phishing Scams and Emerging Trends Your Bank or Credit Union Staff Should Be Aware of

Phishing—the practice of using fake emails and other schemes to obtain sensitive information or data, such as usernames, passwords, or credit card details—continues to be one of the most prevalent security threats today. This blog covers some of the top phishing scams, as well as some new trends, that banks and credit unions should know about, so they can better protect themselves.

Top Scams

One of the most widespread and potentially devastating types of phishing scams is “impersonation phishing,” according to the Q1 2021 Financial Crime Report by Feedzai, a data science company that prevents, detects, and remediates fraud risk for financial institutions. With this tactic, cybercriminals target people by a phone, text, or email claiming to be from a financial institution or government agency. The objective: Convince the potential victim to make some kind of payment, which will enable the culprit to access the person’s credit card or financial account. Or the impersonator might send a “Suspicious Account Activity”’ email from a financial institution, asking the targeted individual to log into their online account and verify a transaction. Then when the person logs in using the button or link provided in the email, the attack ensues.

Spear phishing is another common con that financial institutions should have on their radar. Almost two-thirds of all known groups carrying out targeted cyber attacks use spear-phishing emails, according to Symantec’s 2019 Internet Security Threat Report. Many of these attacks originate from hijacked business email accounts, and as a result, can be quite effective. The perpetrator normally already knows some information about the recipient, so the fake emails appear to be legitimate.

Clone phishing, a variation of spear phishing, involves the attacker recreating or cloning a legitimate and previously opened email with a new attachment or link included. The duplicated email is then sent with an infected attachment that can be used to control or steal information once clicked or downloaded.

Top Emerging Trends

A new approach that banks and credit unions should know about is “vishing” (or voice phishing). Cybercriminals are now using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) platforms to launch vishing attacks against employees worldwide, the FBI warns. In these cases, vishers try to get users of VoIP platforms to pick up the phone and authenticate themselves on a phishing website designed to steal their credentials. Vishing scams have now evolved to the point where perpetrators are successfully faking caller IDs and pretending to be someone else.

We are also seeing phishing scammers modifying their basic tactics. Many are now sending emails that simply ask for “urgent attention” rather than payment transfers, which suggests they are altering their approach to bypass standard fraud-prevention methods. They’re also using strategies like the “Zombie Phish” which involves taking over an email account and responding to an old email conversation with a new phishing link. Additionally, phishers have started using shortened URLs, which have an easier time getting past filters and vigilant employees.

As an evasive strategy, attackers link potential victims to the websites of trusted cloud filesharing services like SharePoint and OneDrive. Consider this: More than 5,200 SharePoint phishing emails were reported in a 12-month period, along with almost 2,000 attacks involving OneDrive, according to Cofense Intelligence’s Q3 2020 Phishing Review. More advanced phishing campaigns are also employing unusual attachment types to elude the controls imposed by secure email gateways. For example, .iso files are being renamed to .img files to sneak malware through a gateway.

Ultimately, the best defense against phishing is human intelligence, so training employees to detect this type of fraud is essential. Financial institutions can also take advantage of third-party information security services to strengthen their security posture against phishing attacks. Safe Systems, a national provider of fully compliant IT and security services, is enabling institutions to win the cyber battle against phishing through a full spectrum of solutions specifically designed to help community banks and credit unions enhance their security posture.

04 Mar 2021
5 ISO Duties that Can Be Automated for FIs

5 ISO Duties that Can Be Automated for FIs

5 ISO Duties that Can Be Automated for FIs

Information security officers (ISOs) at financial institutions typically have myriad responsibilities on their plates, and each of those responsibilities comes with one or more forms of documentation to verify the actions taken. While these duties relate to the main categories of network security and regulatory compliance, there are a host of functions that fall under the ISO’s oversight role.

Fortunately, many ISO responsibilities can be automated in some areas to facilitate the management of the institution’s information security program. Here are five of them:

1. Business Continuity Management (BCM)

ISOs are responsible for overseeing and coordinating BCM, providing detailed guidance on how to recover from a business interruption, and ensuring that the appropriate people, processes, and technology components that make up the network of interdependencies are also restored. Automation can make it easier for the ISO to identify the interdependencies, complete the annual updates, and conduct the training exercises and testing required. Automation can also enable alerts for tasks due by process owners, and generate reminders for annual plan board approval, and report the test results to the board. While the tests for BCP cannot be automated, the documentation and reporting of the tests can—something that can significantly streamline the ISO’s oversight responsibilities and make it much easier to locate these documents at audit and examination time.

2. Updates to the Information Security Program and Information Security Risk Assessment

Automation can provide alerts to help ISOs keep abreast of updates from regulators. Then the ISO can easily pull reports on the revised areas to present them for board approval. Essentially, it’s plan maintenance that can be automated—although some interpretation is needed to support the process. Automation can prevent an institution’s information security program from becoming out-of-date (which can happen easily when an ISO is relying on manual processes for management) as failing to make an important update can have significant, negative consequences. For instance, if management misses a major BCP update, or an annual test, or board reporting, auditors may construe this as a general weakness in management, and scrutinize other areas more closely, such as lending practices or financial reporting. Automation can help institutions avoid inadvertent missteps and resulting hassles within their information security program.

In addition, many recent examination findings relate to inconsistencies between the institution’s policies (what they say they do) and their procedures (how they say they will do them). Automation, when combined with integration between applications, can greatly reduce this probability by easily propagating policy and procedural changes throughout all elements of your information security program. For example, sometimes financial institutions will update their BCM plan but might be lax with other policies—something that can result in a disconnect between different policies. In this case, one policy may refer to a process that is no longer being used; or a policy may contain conflicting references for a process that has been updated. These and other kinds of inconsistencies are virtually impossible to catch without automation and integration.

3. Tracking Audit Exam Findings

Unresolved, or “repeat” findings are usually treated very harshly by regulators. Making sure that all audit and exam issues are resolved in a timely manner is crucial. Automation can rate the severity, assign them to a responsible party, assign a due date for resolution, and sending “ticklers” and reminders as the dates come due. At the end of the process, the ISO can quickly generate reports to provide to the institution’s board, examiners, and other stakeholders. Alerts and on-demand reporting can enhance accountability for addressing each of the findings to improve internal controls and other areas.

4. Managing Third-party Relationships

Financial institutions are required to manage the risks of their third-party vendors and the responsibility to assure this is done falls squarely on the shoulders of the ISO. Institutions can use automation in every aspect of their vendor relationship management, including alerting and tracking of periodic updates to the risk assessments, annual updates to the control reviews, contracts, and contract renewals. With automation, the ISO can instantly identify required tasks and produce the necessary documentation related to its vendor management activities.

5. Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity is an important sub-component of information security, and automation can significantly enhance the ISO’s multiple oversight efforts in this area. An automated system can remind ISOs to verify that crucial assessments are completed, including the annual Cybersecurity Assessment Tool (CAT) and the Ransomware Self-Assessment Tool (R-SAT). Alerts can be scheduled to prompt ISOs to conduct annual incident response tests, a gap analysis, and cybersecurity training for employees and the board. And on-demand reporting can keep all stakeholders informed on the progress of your cybersecurity efforts.

One final thought about automation; when the application is combined with a provider familiar with, and dedicated to, the regulatory environment of the financial institution, you do not have to worry about a non-compliant policy or procedure. All necessary regulatory and best practice updates are built-in to the automation.

As a national provider of fully compliant IT and security services, Safe Systems offers a variety of innovative solutions that can help financial institutions automate some of the important responsibilities of their ISO.

11 Feb 2021
Using Advanced Firewall Features and Other Technologies to Strengthen Network Security

Using Advanced Firewall Features and Other Technologies to Strengthen Network Security

Using Advanced Firewall Features and Other Technologies to Strengthen Network Security

A traditional firewall can only do so much to protect a network against the invasive security threats that financial institutions are facing. Add to that, cybercriminals are becoming more sophisticated and creative with their schemes, meaning banks and credit unions need more advanced defensive measures in place.

Malware and other cyber threats have been steadily increasing—especially against financial institutions, which are 300 times more likely than other companies to be targeted by a cyberattack, according to research by Boston Consulting Group. Institutions can capitalize on next-generation firewall (NGFW) features and other advanced technologies to increase the likelihood of warding off attacks, including:

Antimalware Scanning

Malware is intentionally designed for a perverse purpose: to damage a computer, server, client, or computer network. To keep malware at bay, banks and credit unions can use antimalware to thoroughly scan their computer network and detect and remove malicious ransomware, spyware, and other software that might be lurking on the system. Taking this proactive step can help institutions keep their network from being damaged, disrupted or compromised and overall improve the delivery of their services in a safe and secure manner.

Dynamic Threat Feeds

Threat intelligence data feeds can provide institutions with constantly updated information about potential sources of attack. Industry-specific feeds deliver up-to-date information on the latest security threats in the banking industry. Dynamic threat feeds make it easy for institutions to permit “good” network traffic in and “bad” traffic out while ensuring critical processes continue to work.

Dynamic threat feeds, essentially, take valuable parts of the information related to establishing connections and find similarities within them to act on potential or current threats. A key type of threat intelligence feed that institutions can implement are GEO-IP threat feeds. With this technology, a bank can map an IP address to the geographic location of an Internet-connected computing device. Then, they can analyze the Geo-IP data to detect threats from high-risk locations to improve their security posture. This analysis can be accomplished with processing times equal to less than a few milliseconds.

Another effective threat feed that institutions can use is IBM X-Force Exchange. This cloud-based threat intelligence platform allows banks to consume, share, and act on a variety of threat intelligences. IBM X-Force enables users to quickly research the latest security threats, gather actionable intelligence, consult with experts, and collaborate with peers. They can also integrate other tools to facilitate configuring feeds, providing a major benefit for smaller institutions with fewer resources. With dynamic threat feeds, banks and credit unions can have greater peace of mind with their firewall and security posture.

TLS/SSL Inspection

NGFWs offer capabilities that go beyond traditional firewalls, including inspecting TLS/SSL encrypted traffic. TLS/SSL technology helps protect online traffic; it creates an encrypted link between a web server and browser, ensuring the privacy of the data being transmitted. TLS/SSL inspection is important because it allows firewalls to scrutinize this encrypted web traffic and close holes in security. These security gaps could be exploited by would-be cybercriminals who attempt to use encrypted traffic for malware to circumvent the firewall’s inspections.

TLS/SSL traffic inspection allows institutions to decrypt traffic, inspect the decrypted payload for threats, then re-encrypt the traffic before it enters or leaves the network. Such deep content inspection can better protect institutions from internal and external risks. This makes TLS/SSL inspection the ideal defensive weapon against menacing malware and other security issues.


Sandboxing can also help institutions augment their network security efforts. Traditional firewalls evaluate traffic based on static factors like where it originated, it is destination going, and the port being used. However, these are no longer sufficient for combating modern security threats. Sandboxing—physically or virtually segmenting a system, network, or entire environment—creates a secure location to test and neutralize potential hazards. Having a safe space to “detonate” payloads for analysis results in less risk and damage to the production environment, and, ultimately, enhances network security.

For more information about using advanced firewall features and other technology to strengthen network security, read our “Improving Security Posture Through Next-Generation Firewall Features” white paper.

14 Jan 2021
Looking Ahead to 2021: A Regulatory Compliance Update

Looking Ahead to 2021: A Regulatory Compliance Update

Looking Ahead to 2021: A Regulatory Compliance Update

As we mentioned in our previous blog, the Pandemic dominated the regulatory landscape early in 2020, and cybersecurity dominated the last few months of the year. This double-whammy forced financial institutions to quickly make operational adjustments to their procedures and practices. In the previous post, we explored the Pandemic. In this post, we’ll summarize the regulatory focus on cybersecurity in 2020, and look ahead to 2021.

Focus on Ransomware

The escalation of ransomware attacks (also referred to as destructive malware) has prompted a greater focus on addressing this aspect of cybersecurity. On October 1, 2020, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued an advisory to alert companies about possible sanctions for facilitating ransomware payments. Financial institutions should be aware that they (and their cybersecurity insurance provider) could be in violation of OFAC regulations should they decide to pay a ransom to anyone on the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list. This would place the institution on the hook for payments made by themselves, or by any third-party on their behalf. Institutions should address this issue during incident response testing by including their cyber insurance company and making sure they know that paying a ransom could trigger penalties or sanctions.

The heightened emphasis on ransomware also led to the release of a new Ransomware Self-Assessment Tool (R-SAT) in October 2020. Developed by the Bankers Electronic Crimes Taskforce (BECTF), the U.S. Secret Service, and state bank regulatory agencies, the R-SAT follows established best practices to help financial institutions reduce their risk of ransomware. We have reports from several banks around the country that their State examiners are requesting completion of the R-SAT prior to their examination. Unlike the CAT, the 16-question tool only allows “Yes” or “No” responses, it does not give users the option to answer “Yes with compensating controls”. This lack of flexibility does not work in the favor of smaller, less complex financial institutions, which may have informal practices in place that still accomplish the same objectives as the more formal practices of the larger institutions.

Nonetheless, the yes/no response format should not be an issue if institutions have already taken steps to address ransomware and, more broadly, cybersecurity. They can simply point regulators to relevant supporting details, (completed CAT assessments and incident response plans and tests for example) and that should be sufficient to demonstrate compliance. It’s also important to note that what we’ve heard from state regulators is that they are not strictly requiring institutions to employ the R-SAT, only that they intend to use the assessment as a starting point for further discussion. Increased discussion surrounding shared cyber threats facing financial institutions is never a bad thing!

Finally, the OCC released their semi-annual Risk Perspective in November and singled out cybersecurity as a key operational risk. While they point out that overall banks have adequate cybersecurity systems, they have seen some weaknesses related to IT, change management, and information security. We can expect increased scrutiny in these areas, and cybersecurity generally, for the foreseeable future.

What to Expect in 2021

One common denominator between the Pandemic and cybersecurity is the concept of resilience. Resilience, or the ability to withstand and recover from unplanned and unanticipated events, is all about proactive as opposed to reactive measures. It equates to implementing procedures ahead of time—rather than just responding to past events—to reduce the risk of operational downtime. Granted, the impromptu procedures established during the COVID-19 pandemic, or following a cyber-attack, are reactive in nature. But, once firmly in place and tested in the real world, they become the proactive resilience measures ready for when the next event occurs.

One additional factor common to both Pandemic and cybersecurity is proper management and oversight of third-parties. We expect that examiners will scrutinize how institutions manage the third-party lifecycle; from the initial decision to engage the third-party, to assessing and controlling on-going risk, to disengagement at the end of the relationship. Among the elements attracting attention are whether you are tracking the complementary user entity controls for critical vendors. These are found in the SOC 2 reports and list the controls expected of you by the vendor. Be aware of these vendor expectations, and document how you’ve addressed them.

In summary, take extra precautions in 2021 relating to cybersecurity (particularly ransomware), another potential Pandemic event, and third-party management. Document everything you’ve done or plan to do (e.g., resilience measures), and most of all stay flexible. If we’ve learned anything from 2020, it’s to expect the unexpected!

31 Dec 2020
Best Practices in Leveraging Firewalls and Encryption

The Importance of a Layered Approach to Financial Institution Security: Best Practices in Leveraging Firewalls and Encryption

What You Need to Know About Securing Azure AD

Over the last decade, we have seen major advances in the world of online security, mainly with the development of firewalls and encrypted data options.

Safe Systems hosted a live webinar earlier this month discussing how firewalls, encryption and other online security measures work; why a layered security approach is best in all situations; possible threats to each security measure; and what your financial institution can do to keep your information secure and uncompromised. In case you missed it, here are a few key points from the webinar.

What are firewalls and how did we get to where we are today?

Firewalls became a necessity when banks and credit unions started connecting all of their computers to the same network that was then connected to the internet. Firewalls functioned as the first line of defense – but were nowhere near the caliber of defense we have available today.

When attacks started to occur, it put company computers and the data stored on them in a compromised position. A need arose to come up with appliances that were either in line with the firewall or were an additive to the firewall’s system. The new appliances included IDS/IPS systems, AV Gateways and Web filters – all of which added new layers of security to the firewall.

Today, the latest generation of firewalls, known as Next Generation Firewalls, combines earlier firewall models and offers multiple layers of protection as part of the firewall service. However, some of the additional layers may be included by default and some require extra licensing to take advantage of specific features.

What is the layered security approach and how do today’s firewalls implement that strategy?

What we have learned over the last several years is that security solutions may be incredibly strong in some regards but have gaping holes in others. A layered security approach assists in closing those gaps and lessens the potential risks for an online attack.

What is encryption, how does it work and what can we do better?

Encryption is another aspect of the layered security approach. The two encryption types highlighted in the webinar are Secure Socket Layer (SSL) and Transport Layer Security (TLS), and while they use different nomenclature, the two encryption types are essentially the same – TLS is just a slightly new version.

The goals of TLS:

  1. Encrypt Data
  2. Authentication
  3. Data Integrity

In the last 5 years, there has been major growth in website encryption. It has expanded from being used only when a user types in their username and password to include approximately 90% of the most visited websites today encrypting all of their webpages.

Although having encrypted sites gives users a more secure experience, encryption has some unintended consequences. When traffic is encrypted between the website and the desktop browsing the site, the firewall cannot evaluate the traversing traffic. This means, in the past, a firewall could evaluate a large majority of web traffic. Now, the firewall can only evaluate about 10% of web traffic, because the rest is encrypted.

Bad actors have focused on these security holes and have built their malware to navigate encrypted traffic to get through the firewall and to the workstation. To fight this issue, TLS inspection can be implemented on a Next Generation Firewall to inspect the encrypted traffic passing through on a daily basis.

Today, with TLS inspection, firewalls can get back to inspecting a majority of web traffic farther than just 10% that isn’t encrypted today. This closes a major security gap many institutions may not even know they have.

What steps can you take to increase your online security?

Although there are several ways you can increase your level of online security, as of now, there is no software that guarantees you will not be compromised. However, in addition to encryption, you can take several steps to keep your online presence safe and secure.

A few of the steps you can take to fight malware are:

  1. Anti-Malware Scanning – an anti-virus engine that came about in the Universal Threat Management (UTM) devices. Anti-malware is a software program designed to prevent, detect and remove malicious software on IT systems.
  2. Sandbox Analysis Piece – an additive that enables a firewall to analyze a file and determine its risks level. If the file is determined to possibly be malicious, the file can be sent to the sandbox where the file can be detonated. If the file appears malicious after detonation, the file is blocked from being downloaded to the end user. If the sandbox determines the file is likely safe, the file is allowed to pass through the firewall to the end user for us.

To learn more ways to protect your institution, watch our recorded webinar, “Why You Shouldn’t Ignore Encryption.”

22 Dec 2020
3 Top Security Threats Financial Institutions Must Defend Against

3 Top Security Threats Financial Institutions Must Defend Against

3 Top Security Threats Financial Institutions Must Defend Against

Security remains one of the primary areas of concern for community banks and credit unions, according to our recent sentiment survey and based on responses, the top three security threats that keep survey respondents up at night are cybersecurity, information security and ransomware.

Here’s a synopsis of each of these security categories as well as some proven best practices that can help institutions address them:

#1: Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity is a broad area for financial institutions to truly master, especial smaller community banks and credit unions with fewer resources to devote to defending themselves – something that National Credit Union Administration Chairman Rodney Hood has even acknowledged.
In today’s world, cybersecurity threats are ubiquitous, with cyberattacks 300 times more likely to hit financial services firms than other companies, according to a recent Boston Consulting Group report. However, banks and credit unions can take advantage of a number of resources to strengthen their security efforts. Two valuable tools include 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 also capitalize on the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Cybersecurity Framework to address cybersecurity issues. Not only can the Cybersecurity Framework help institutions properly evaluate their defensive capabilities, but it provides policies and procedures that can help them identify and even resolve security issues.

#2: Information Security

The goal of information security is to prevent electronic and physical data from unauthorized access, use, disclosure, disruption, modification, inspection, recording or destruction. More specifically, information security is a set of strategies for managing the processes, tools and policies that are necessary to defend data when it is being stored and transmitted between different machine or physical locations.

The three basic principles of information security are what are known as the “CIA” triad: Confidentiality, Integrity, and Availability. “Confidentiality” relates to being able to identify who is trying to access data and block attempts by unauthorized individuals. “Integrity” entails maintaining data in its correct state and preventing it from being improperly modified—either by accident or maliciously. “Availability,” like confidentiality, equates to ensuring data can only be accessed only by users with the proper permissions.

Today, institutions face a variety of threats to their data security, including breaches, malware, and deceptive phishing emails that trick victims into divulging their private information. These types of attacks can have a detrimental and long-lasting effect on companies, such as a loss of customers, reputation, revenues, and profits.

Financial institutions are common targets of malware, phishing scams, and data breaches. About 50 percent of all unique organizations impacted by “observed” phishing domains were from the financial services sector, according to Akamai Technologies’ 2019 State of the Internet/Security Financial Services Attack Economy Report.

As a defensive tactic, organizations should implement a layered approach to preventing information security threats. This means employing multiple security measures, policies, and procedures, from patch management to secure software development. However, people can be the first—and best—line of defense, so educating employees about potential cybersecurity threats is crucial.

#3: Ransomware

As the name implies, ransomware is malicious software that is designed to block access to a computer system until the victim pays a sum of money. The ransomware threatens to publish the data or deny access to it either temporarily or permanently.

Regardless of how the attack is initially perpetrated, ransomware presents a serious threat to all types of organizations. It typically begins when someone downloads a malicious email attachment or visits an infected website. The ruse is often undetectable, so most victims are not aware the data breach is happening—until it is too late. Unfortunately, ransomware is difficult to stop, and it can take a huge toll on consumers and organizations, causing frustration, disruption, data loss, and financial damage.

The problem with ransomware is that it is both widespread in nature and costly to address. And ransomware attacks—along with other cyber scams—began surging during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the July 2020 McAfee COVID-19 Threat Report. A recent example is Ransomware-GVZ, which displays a note and demands payment in return for decrypting the company’s compromised computer systems and the data they contain.

Fortunately, there are actionable steps financial institutions can take to defend their data against ransomware attacks. Some of the most practical measures include keeping operating systems patched and maintaining up-to-date malware software to detect potential threats. Another good practice: keep files backed up, so the data can be replaced if a hacker ever holds it hostage. However, the time to implement defensive data security strategies is before a cyberattack happens.

For more insight about these top three security threats and best practices to defend against them, download our Top 10 Banking, Security, Technology and Compliance Concerns white paper.

12 Nov 2020
The Importance of Performing a Cybersecurity Gap Analysis for Banks and Credit Unions

The Importance of Performing a Cybersecurity Gap Analysis for Banks and Credit Unions

The Importance of Performing a Cybersecurity Gap Analysis for Banks and Credit Unions

In response to the Coronavirus pandemic, many financial institutions have implemented new technologies and made modifications to their IT infrastructure to better serve customers, members, and employees during this time. These changes may have increased the institution’s inherent risk profile, however, making it necessary to review the Federal Financial Institution Examination Council’s (FFIEC) Cybersecurity Assessment Tool (CAT) or National Credit Union Association’s Automated Cybersecurity Examination Tool (ACET). When adjustments are made to the organization, community banks, and credit unions must evaluate their risks and perform a gap analysis to ensure the institution is protected from cyber threats.

What is a Cybersecurity Gap Analysis?

A cybersecurity gap analysis starts evaluating the results of the CAT or ACET, (which is simply a snapshot in time of where you are with your risks (inherent risk profile) and controls (cybersecurity maturity) and then comparing “where your institution is” to “where you need to be.” In almost every case, there is some degree of misalignment between the two. Some common questions financial institutions ask are “Could we be doing more to oversee our cloud providers?” or “Should we be doing more to manage our internal administrators or third parties?” The idea of the gap analysis is to take your risk areas and determine what set of controls are most effective against those specific risk areas.

Completing the Cybersecurity Maturity section, for example, helps financial institutions better identify missing controls and processes. So, in order to increase the level of cybersecurity maturity, institutions should continually implement changes even if their inherent risk profile doesn’t change. Conducting a gap analysis is the first step in this process.

Continuous Improvement

Why should institutions strive to continuously improve their security posture even if their risk profile doesn’t increase? Simply put, because the threat environment is constantly evolving. New threats (and new twists on old threats) require constant vigilance and continuous improvements to existing controls. Standing still means you’re probably falling behind. On the other hand, making steady, incremental progress on your control maturity demonstrates a proactive, forward-thinking approach to cybersecurity.

Key Areas of Focus

First, financial institutions must determine if their controls and risks align – no small task as there are roughly 30 risk elements and nearly 500 control maturity elements in the assessment. Attempting to improve all of these areas in the CAT can be challenging and expensive for any institution, but especially smaller community banks and credit unions. While all control maturity domains are important, if your financial institution has limited resources, there are two key domains that you should focus your attention on when developing the gap analysis.

  • Domain 4: External Dependency Management
  • This domain involves establishing and maintaining a comprehensive program to oversee and manage external connections and third-party relationships that provide access to the institution’s technology and information. Most financial institutions have a host of outsourced relationships that they rely on to keep operations running. Evaluating the interdependencies and associated security gaps from third-party vendors should be a key part of your analysis process.

  • Domain 5: Cyber Incident Management and Resilience
  • This domain focuses on establishing, identifying, and analyzing cyber events, as well as the ability to prioritize, contain, and mitigate during cyber events. The institution should also have the ability to properly inform the appropriate stakeholders in response to a cyber event. Cyber resilience includes both planning and testing to maintain and recover ongoing operations during — and following — a cyber incident. In the current security environment, it’s not if a cyber event will occur but when. Financial institutions should have an effective cyber incident response plan to control, contain, and recover from a potential cyber incident.

For more information, watch our Banking Bits and Bytes episode, “What is a Cybersecurity Gap Analysis?”

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.

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.”

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.”

09 Apr 2020
American Pride Bank Tackles Information Security Responsibilities with Safe Systems’ ISOversight Virtual ISO Solution

American Pride Bank Tackles Information Security Responsibilities with Safe Systems’ ISOversight Virtual ISO Solution

American Pride Bank Tackles Information Security Responsibilities with Safe Systems’ ISOversight Virtual ISO Solution

With ongoing cybersecurity threats; increased use of third-party providers; and constantly evolving regulatory and reporting requirements, the role of the information security officer (ISO) is even more important in today’s complex banking environment than ever before. However, community bank and credit union ISOs often struggle to keep up with the growing number of responsibilities this role requires – often forced to manage critical tasks with limited resources and a lack of segregation of duties.

The Challenge

Nicole Rinehart, Chief Operations Officer at American Pride Bank, ran into this very issue as the sole IT admin at American Pride Bank. Managing all of the ISO responsibilities, including critical activities such as Board reporting and the production of comprehensive reports for examiners, was difficult to manage due to the many manual processes required.

During a regulatory examination, an examiner recommended the bank focus on having more independence within its ISO duties. The Federal Financial Institution Examination Council (FFIEC) states that all financial institutions must have separation of duties for the ISO role. To accomplish this, the bank began evaluating solutions to help streamline processes and ensure complete oversight of all information security activities.

The Solution

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After consideration, American Pride Bank decided to partner with Safe Systems and implement its ISOversight virtual ISO solution. The service includes a suite of applications and programs to help institutions streamline management of key compliance duties including the CAT, BCP, Vendor Management and Information Security.

In this case, the bank was already leveraging individual components of ISOversight. By converting to the virtual ISO service, they gained additional tools, reports, and expert compliance support. An important part of the solution includes monthly meetings with the Safe Systems compliance team to assess the bank’s information security activities and provide guidance.

The Results

With ISOversight, American Pride Bank has improved its overall preparation and communication of the information security program. All key stakeholders in the bank have access to ISO-related items in real-time, and the information security program is more organized and streamlined, enabling the bank to save time on monitoring and reporting.

“The ISOversight solution has been a game-changer for our bank because now we have a robust process in place working with Safe Systems and a full committee of our team members to ensure all tasks are completed accurately and nothing slips through the cracks,” said Rinehart. “It’s so important to have a process like this, especially when you have limited resources. Safe Systems has truly become an extension of our internal team, helping us to stay on track with ISO responsibilities and ensuring we comply with all regulatory requirements.”

To learn more, read the full case study, “American Pride Bank Streamlines Processes and Improves Compliance Reporting with Safe Systems’ ISOversight Virtual ISO Solution.”