Financial services now the 'front lines' in cyber warfare, experts suggest

A Wells Fargo exec suggested most attackers rerouting to where the data is, meaning emerging technologies in the cloud and datacenters could be most at risk.


SAN FRANCISCO---Financial services are the front lines for a lot of the cyber battles being sparked today, argued Rich Mogull, CEO of information security research firm Securosis.

The reason why, according to Mogull, is simple: that’s where the money is.

During a panel discussion at the Kaspersky Lab enterprise IT summit on Tuesday afternoon, Mogull along with executives from Visa, Wells Fargo, and McKinsey Research took a pulse on the rise and fall of cyber attacks on financial services and retailers.

Looking at the Target breach last winter, amid others that preceded it, Visa’s chief enterprise risk officer Ellen Richey acknowledged that the payments system is often the primary target.

But as we see an increasing stream of data breaches, Richey highlighted what might be a silver lining, if there is one: fraud rates are one-third the level they were a few decades ago.

McKinsey Research consultant Chris Rezek concurred that some metrics and trends seem to be stabilizing, but concerns are certainly growing.

Steve Adegbite, senior vice president of enterprise information security oversight and strategy at Wells Fargo, lamented that methodology hasn’t actually changed. The difference now, Adgebite suspected, is that these criminals are casting their nets wider to achieve larger volume by going after softer targets.

To mitigate these threats, Adegbite advised setting up a third-party security program looping in supply chain and legal to ensure and encourage the same levels of security all around.

But a big cash grab isn’t the only motivation — even when going after global financial institutions. Richey pointed toward denial-of-service (DoS) attacks, primarily conducted by “hacktivists,” an increasingly common term online for hackers motivated by political causes.

Adegbite predicted that most attackers are going to move where the data is, meaning emerging technologies in the cloud and datacenters could be most at risk.

Both Adegbite and Richey reminded that threats are different around the world, by region, making it more complicated and challenging for global payments systems providers. Richey added what worries her more is keeping data onshore as well as secure.

Reflecting on the debilitating Heartbleed bug discovered last week, Rezek stressed it’s not just about preventing breaches but having a good response plan in place, which is often most visible to end users through immediate and informative disclosures.