When SWIFT messages are utilized in bank heists like the 2016 Bangladesh Bank attack, reports often refer to SWIFT having been “hacked.” In reality, it’s the banks themselves that have had their cybersecurity flaws exposed, and the SWIFT network was only used as a tool for the fraudsters to gain the trust of the financial institutions that are performing the transfers. This might seem like a small nit to pick, but in some ways it’s an important distinction to draw. Why? Because it centers “trust” as one of the most important elements of both successful fraud and successful fraud prevention.
According to IBM, the average cost of a data breach in 2019 was just under $4 million—and this is nothing compared to the costs of some of the more high profile security lapses in recent history. Since the Equifax breach was uncovered in the 2017, it’s estimated that it’s cost the company $1.4 billion. And this is before we talk about other types of attacks beyond data breaches, like the SWIFT transaction fraud that lay at the heart of the infamous Bangladesh Bank heist. Really, it’s hard to overstate how critical data security is for international businesses, especially in the financial sector.
With the current world-wide coronavirus pandemic, more people are working from outside the safety of their usual secure corporate networks. This opens your company up to a whole slew of new hacks and security concerns. Fortunately, there are options when it comes to locking down access to your proprietary data and internal systems.
SWIFT fraud is on the rise. In a recent EastNets survey of 200 of the roughly 11,000 financial institutions on the SWIFT network, 80% of respondents said they had experienced at least one attempt at SWIFT fraud in the three-plus years since the infamous Bangladesh Bank heist. In Asia, that number is closer to 100%, and the number across the board is probably somewhat higher than that—given that only 40% of the banks surveyed were “very confident” that they were successfully detecting every fraud attempt on their network.
Right now, when people think of seamless, end-to-end message encryption, they’re likely to think of WhatsApp (which has over a billion users) or Signal (which developed the baseline open source encryption technology). There’s a good reason for this: five years ago, when Signal was launched, it offered a pioneering commitment to both privacy and ease-of-use. "The choices we’re making, the app we're trying to create, it needs to be for people who don’t know how to enable airplane mode on their phone," Signal founder Moxie Marlinspike said in a recent Wired article—and it seems like the project largely succeeding at setting a high standard for ease-of-use.
The rapid spread of the coronavirus around the world is causing lightning-fast changes in almost all areas of our lives, and it can be hard for even the most diligent newsreaders to keep pace. As with any volatile situation, hackers are exploiting the fears and confusion over the virus to perpetrate phishing scams and gain access to sensitive information—but this isn’t a typical, run-of-the-mill crisis: on the one hand, things are so serious that some hackers have actually promised not to launch new ransomware attacks against any healthcare targets during the pandemic—on the other, the US is warning of an ‘unprecedented’ wave of coronavirus scams already in the works.
Of all the ways a hacker can gain access to your confidential business information, Business Email Compromise, or BEC, is one of the least well understood in the business community. There are many reasons for this, among them a lack of understanding of the role social engineering plays and the myriad ways a hacker can ‘obtain’ a legitimate company email address to use to launch their attack.
Every year, the bar for SWIFT CSP compliance gets pitched a little bit higher. For 2020, a number of advisory controls were upgraded to mandatory, including a control related to shrinking the threat surface in banking organizations through application hardening. This is a wise tactic: as attackers carrying out fraudulent transactions get more sophisticated, financial institutions need to do the same when it comes to information security. At the same time, it’s not clear that increased mandatory advisories will be enough to stem the year-over-year increase in SWIFT CSP fraud.
So far, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown the world a myriad of flaws, risks, and vulnerabilities in the everyday systems and behaviors that we take for granted. This extends to healthcare infrastructure in much of the world, obviously, but it applies just as strongly to the global supply chain, telecommunications networks, and cybersecurity. Toilet paper and hand-sanitizer shortages are rampant (at least in the US), remote work is taking a tremendous toll on existing mobile and Wi-Fi networks, and phishing attacks aimed at a nervous and wary populace are on the rise.