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Be cyber-safe: think like a criminal

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Cyberattacks on financial services institutions are becoming increasingly sophisticated and frequent, but where should IT teams start in better defending their networks? BRIAN FORSTER, senior director of Marketing at Fortinet shares his advice.

Cyberattacks on financial services institutions are becoming increasingly sophisticated and frequent. By using stolen legitimate credentials and malware to disguise criminal activity, these breaches can remain undetected for some time, making the financial impact irreparable.

Professionals in the financial services sector are well aware of such risks. The Financial Services Edition of the 2016 Vormetric Data Threat Report surveyed 1,100 senior IT security executives at large enterprises around the world, including over 100 U.S. financial services organisations. The report found that 90 percent of respondents feel vulnerable to data threats, and 44 percent have already experienced a data breach – with nearly one in five (19 percent) indicating they had experienced a breach in the last year. This just goes to prove the sentiment, “it’s not if you will get hacked, but when”.  To which we can add, “and how quickly you learn about it”.

So, where should financial services IT teams start in better defending their networks? From sports fields to battlefields, there’s an adage that has been used for centuries that states: “the best defence is a good offence”. The idea behind this theory is that having a proactive offensive attitude (rather than a reactive defensive posture) is the best way to keep the opposition occupied and limit their ability to conduct an attack.

This strategy can also be highly effective in the business world, specifically for cybersecurity teams at large financial institutions. Cybersecurity professionals who are able to step away from the defensive side of security and think like a cybercriminal will likely be better prepared to put solutions and strategies in place to protect their data.

Here are some questions financial services IT professionals should ask themselves to put them in the frame of mind of a cybercriminal in order to better their defence:

Which industries should I attack?

Before an attack is launched, cybercriminals will evaluate the landscape and identify areas where they can prosper the most. The financial services industry is consistently at or near the top of cybercriminals’ lists because, quite literally, it’s where the money is.

However, aside from seeking out customer information to commit fraud, cybercriminals see value in stealing data like bank employee e-mail addresses and passwords. With this information they are able to pose as an employee to infiltrate the bank and commit theft. By understanding the industries that are commonly attacked, and the ways attackers try to get in, cybersecurity teams will be better prepared to put an effective strategy in place and make the investments where necessary to match the capabilities used by criminals.

Where are the vulnerabilities?

As the network expands, so does the attack surface. With the proliferation of mobile devices in the workplace, for instance employees working from remote locations, today’s cybercriminals have more opportunities than ever before to find ways into targeted networks. Additionally, when financial institutions acquire a company to expand their presence, they typically acquire the disparate technology that comes with it, often adding complexity to the organisation’s security posture. All of these components equate to challenges that need to be addressed.

However, nobody knows the network and its vulnerabilities better than those who have put it together in the first place.

IT security professionals in financial services should look for openings in their own defence via white hat hacking and penetration testing. Since there isn’t a single piece of technology that will be able to stop every threat, those cracks in the system that are both easy access points and lead to sensitive data should be the ones focused on first. Remember, cybercriminals are just human beings looking for the fastest and most financially rewarding way to do their jobs.

It’s also important to remember that employees are a part of the system as well. An employee who is uneducated about security can be just as dangerous to data as any other digital or physical entry point. One way to test for employee vulnerabilities is to simply conduct test attacks. Many CIOs will send out fake phishing attacks to see if their employees will provide login credentials or click on malicious links. If a high number of employees fail the test, security teams know it is an area that demands added focus.

Cybercriminals are always looking for new ways to penetrate networks. IT security teams should be doing the same as well. By conducting threat intelligence research, cybersecurity teams will be able to better monitor existing vulnerabilities and identify new threats before they take hold within the network.

Best practices for better security

Once IT teams begin to like cybercriminals they are better prepared to pro-actively and offensively implement robust strategies to defeat attempts at compromising their networks:

  • Identify weaknesses: How do you address cloud and IoT vulnerabilities? Have your employees been trained in safe e-mail management and other everyday security issues? Utilise penetration-testing services to find out where your greatest liabilities are and start there.
  • Focus on compliance, data privacy and regulations: The financial services industry is so heavily regulated specifically because of the high value of its data and dollars and the vulnerability of its customers and clients. Violations can be expensive and destroy credibility. Conduct regular, and even automated audits to ensure that all regulations are being met, and if not, find solutions to quickly shore up these weak points.
  • Meet with the C-suite: The role of the C-suite with regards to security has transformed. Cybersecurity threats put a company’s finances and value at risk, and increase the need for mature strategies to safeguard a company’s data, resources, reputation, and brand. As a strategic business and risk management executive, the C-suite should have significant oversight and guidance in these areas. They can no longer be IT-only considerations.
  • Implement an end-to-end security strategy that provides:
  • Operational visibility at scale; an effective solution should provide the ability to run multiple security applications without degrading performance.
  • The ability to integrate an adaptive architecture that’s designed to incorporate multiple security vendors’ products to enable security against threats from IoT to the perimeter, across the network, and into the data centre – both on premises and in the cloud.
  • Advanced threat protection, which provides up-to-date defences against the latest attacks. Many of the recent data breaches have fooled or evaded legacy security solutions.
  • Unified threat intelligence and management. In this way, all components – networks and other elements of the infrastructure – can be easily managed from one place.

Final thoughts

For the financial services sector, cybersecurity is one of the primary business imperatives that firms must put front and centre to not only safeguard their clients’ financial data, but to also serve as a business enabler and drive innovation to stay ahead of the growing threat landscape.

Financial services IT teams that think like cybercriminals will be able to take an offensive approach to security. Understanding what makes the organisation an attractive target and how malicious actors will attempt to gain entry, will lead to a more secure network and reduce the number of costly data breaches that impact the organisation. Implementing these best practices will enable secure services that deliver the peace of mind that their networks are secure and protected from even the most sophisticated attacks.

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Low-cost wireless sport earphones get a kickstart

Wireless earphone brands are common, but not crowdfunded brands. BRYAN TURNER takes the K Sport Wireless for a run.

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As wireless technology becomes better, Bluetooth earphones have become popular in the consumer market. KuaiFit aspires to make them even more accessible to more people through a cheaper, quality product, by selling the K Sport Wireless Earphones directly from its Kickstarter page

KuaiFit has an app by the same name which offers voice-guided personal training services in almost every type of exercise, from cardio to weight-lifting. A vast range of connectivity to third-party sensors is available, like heart rate sensors and GPS devices, which work well with guided coaching. 

The app starts off with selecting a fitness level: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Thereafter, one has the ability to connect with real personal trainers via a subscription to its paid service. The subscription comes free for 6 months with the earphones, and R30 per month thereafter. 

The box includes a manual, a USB to two USB Type B connectors, different sized soft plastic eartips and the two earphone units. Each earphone is wireless and connects to the other independently of wires. This puts the K Sport Wireless in the realm of the Apple Earpods in terms of connection style. 

The earphones are just over 2cm wide and 2cm high. The set is black with a light blue KuaiFit logo on the earphone’s button. 

The button functions as an on/off switch when long-pressed and a play/pause button when quick-pressed. The dual-button set-up is convenient in everyday use, allowing for playback control depending on which hand is free. Two connectivity modes are available, single earphone mode or dual earphone mode. The dual earphone mode intelligently connects the second earphone and syncs stereo audio a few seconds after powering on. 

In terms of connectivity, the earphones are Bluetooth 4.1 with a massive 10-meter range, provided there are no obstacles between the device and the earphones. While it’s not Bluetooth 5, it still falls into the Bluetooth Low Energy connection category, meaning that the smartphone’s battery won’t be drastically affected by a consistent connection to the earphones. The batteries within the earphones aren’t specifically listed but last anywhere between 3 and 6 hours, depending on the mode. 

Audio quality is surprisingly good for earphones at this price point. The headset style is restricted to in-ear due to its small design and probable usage in movement-intensive activities. As a result, one has to be very careful how one puts these earphones, in because bass has the potential of getting reduced from an incorrect in-ear placement. In-ear earphones are usually notorious for ear discomfort and suction pain after extended usage. These earphones are one of the very few in this price range that are comfortable and don’t cause discomfort. The good quality of the soft plastic ear tip is definitely a factor in the high level of comfort of the in-ear earphone experience.

Overall, the K Sport Wireless earphones are great considering the sound quality and the low price: US$30 on Kickstarter.

Find them on Kickstarter here.

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Taxify enters Google Maps

A recent update to Taxify now uses Google Maps which allows users to identify their drivers, find public transport and search for billing options.

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People planning their travel routes using Google Maps will now see a Taxify icon in the app, in addition to the familiar car, public transport, walking and billing options.

Taxify started operating in South Africa in 2016 and as of October 2018 operates in seven South African cities – Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, Tshwane, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Polokwane.

Once riders have searched for their destination and asked the app for directions, Google Maps shares the proximity of cars on the Taxify platform, as well as an estimated fare for the trip.

If users see that taking the Taxify option is their best bet, they can simply tap on the ‘Open app’ icon, to complete the process of booking the ride. Customers without the app on their device will be prompted to install Taxify first.

This integration makes it possible for users to evaluate which of the private, public or e-hailing modes of transport are most time-efficient and cost-effective.

“This integration with Google Maps makes it so much easier for users to choose the best way to move around their city,” says Gareth Taylor, Taxify’s country manager for South Africa. “They’ll have quick comparisons between estimated arrival times for the different modes of transport, as well as fares they can expect to pay, which will help save both time and money,” he added.

Taxify rides in Google Maps are rolling out globally today and will be available in more than 15 countries, with South Africa being one of the first countries to benefit from this convenient service.

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