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Tackling the Surge: The Expanded Financial Attack Surface
The Attack Surface is Growing, and fast. What once was considered the attack surface is no longer. Instead organizations are faced with a sprawling attack surface, including not just domains, IPs and sub-domains, but also third parties, brand risks and more.
Businesses in the finance sector face two additional challenges:
- One is that financial attack surfaces are larger than those of most other types of organizations. The types of attacks that threat actors launch at banks, FinTechs, insurance companies and other finance businesses aren’t limited only to direct assaults against IT assets. They also extend to customers accounts, which attackers can compromise as a way of conducting fraudulent transactions and engaging in money laundering
- The second challenge is that the financial industry is hot property when it comes to cyber attacks, due to the higher and often quicker financial rewards.
This blog focuses on banks, FinTech companies and insurance providers, as they are among the largest types of entities in the financial sector. That said, most of the guidance below applies to any type of financial organization seeking to understand the special nature of financial attack surface risks.
The ever-growing financial attack surface
Ask most people to describe their attack surface, and their minds will probably go to traditional types of assets (like PCs and servers) and traditional attack techniques (like exploiting vulnerabilities in software applications).
Those are indeed core components of conventional attack surfaces in the financial sector and beyond. But again, advanced threat actors are always on the lookout for new ways to breach organizations, which means that the list of assets and attack techniques they could exploit – in other words, the attack surface – is growing.
For example, threat actors are now deploying attack techniques like the following alongside more traditional methods:
- Brand impersonation: Using tools like social media accounts and lookalike domains, attackers can impersonate brands and trick customers or employees into handing over sensitive information.
- Leaked credentials: Stealing the access credentials of customers and employees is another way that attackers can gain access to sensitive resources.
- Supply chain attacks: In a supply chain attack, threat actors compromise a software product or service that a company uses, then leverage it as a beachhead for gaining access to assets owned by the company.
Although these attacks aren’t entirely new, they are on the rise. For example, supply chain attacks were one of the main drivers fueling a data breach, an increase of 72 percent in 2023. This means that businesses that once did not have to worry much about these types of risks when developing attack surface management strategy now face a longer list of potential threats. To learn more, read about the eight most common cyber threats to the financial industry and how to mitigate them.
Attack surface management challenges of financial organizations
The problem of the expanding attack surface applies to almost all types of businesses across all sectors. But for financial organizations these specific challenges rise to the forefront:
- Customer accounts: As customers of finance businesses typically have direct access to financial resources, compromising those accounts can lead to direct and rapid financial losses.
- Phishing incentives: The risk is high for the financial sector as phishing attacks on this can lead to compromised credentials, which in turn can enable instantaneous theft of large sums of money.
- Supply chain risks: Financial businesses often rely on the same sets of suppliers. ThIs makes supply chain attacks on these suppliers extra lucrative for threat actors. Compromising a major supplier could give them access to multiple banks, FinTech businesses or other financial companies.
- Reputational risks: Trustworthiness is a critical asset in this industry, and any business that suffers an attack involving stolen account or payment information is likely to lose customers, who may worry that it’s no longer a trustworthy steward of their funds. This makes it critical not just to try to prevent stolen credentials, but also to monitor continuously for signs of theft and to detect fraudulent transactions in real time – and to monitor Deep and Dark web forums for stolen credit card information.
Threats like these are among the reasons that Ernest and Young conclude that “cybersecurity has risen to the top of the list of near-term risks for banks.”
Financial attack surface example: Phishing risks
To illustrate how these unique challenges can play out for financial organizations, let’s consider the example of phishing.
Virtually everyone today is familiar with the basics of conventional phishing techniques, such as sending emails designed to download a malicious attachment or click on a malicious link to a phishing site. The site then solicits sensitive information from targets. But in the financial sector, threat actors motivated by the high reward of a successful breach are likely to turn to more sophisticated phishing methodologies.
They might, for example, impersonate a bank on social media or create a fake website hosted on a domain that is spelled similarly to the bank’s legitimate domain name – something that is relatively easy to set up with the help of a phishing kit. If they are able to direct the bank’s customers to the impersonated account or lookalike domain, they could collect account login details, then use them to access customers’ actual accounts and steal money.
Protections like multi-factor authentication (MFA) can help to mitigate these risks, of course. But as the IT department at UNC-Chapel Hill notes, “phishers, scammers and other malicious actors are highly motivated to find ways around this protection so they can steal valuable data.” Their workaround techniques include using phishing strategies like vishing (which means engaging with targets via voice channels) or smishing (the use of SMS for phishing).
When attackers log into their victims’ legitimate accounts, they can make phone calls or send SMS messages to their targets asking them to approve a second authentication factor, thereby defeating the MFA protections.
Customer awareness campaigns can help as well, and they’re certainly worth the investment for financial organizations seeking to minimize their risks. But these plans are not foolproof.
That means that the only way for financial organizations to gain real protection against phishing risks is to deploy advanced defenses – such as phishing tools that can detect all types of phishing, not just conventional methods like email-based attacks. Dark and Deep web monitoring can help as well by providing early insight into attacks that threat actors may be planning.
Note, too, that some attack surface defenses can be automated or managed with help from AI. But ultimately, analysis by expert humans is the only way to identify and understand the most serious types of attacks
Protecting your attack surface in 2024 with Cyberint
Cyberint offers the comprehensive suite of solutions that organizations need to defend the ever-expanding financial attack surface. With Cyberint, banks, FinTech companies and insurance providers gain all of the core tools they need to manage their attack surfaces, including:
- Detection of risks like shadow IT, misconfigured resources, high-risk CVEs, vulnerable open ports and hijackable subdomains.
- Malware identification.
- Detection of exposed source code.
But that’s not all. Cyberint also delivers advanced attack surface management capabilities, such as:
- Dark web monitoring to detect stolen credentials and payment account details.
- Phishing URL detection and takedown.
- Social media impersonation detection and takedown.
- Defense against emerging phishing campaigns.
By packing all of these capabilities into a single platform, Cyberint not only makes it easy to defend all facets of your attack surface. It also reduces tooling costs by allowing businesses in the financial sector and beyond to consolidate their cybersecurity solutions into a single offering.