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Hacktivism in the Financial Services Industry04 October 2016

Financial Services

Preparing for an attack is the first step toward preventing an attack. While we may understand why a financial organization may be a target for a criminal hacker who wants to profit off the data that target maintains, we should also consider how the organization’s Mission Statement or ethics may lead it to become a hacktivist’s primary target.

Hacktivism can be defined as the practice of gaining unauthorized access to a computer system to carry out various disruptive activities as a means to achieve political or social goals. A person who performs these activities is commonly known as a hacktivist. Though these hacktivists use the same techniques and tools as a hacker, their intent is different. Rather than financial gain, they seek to bring attention to their cause by disrupting an organization’s services and preventing its customers from accessing the data or content it provides.

Ideologies held by hacktivists can differ significantly, but a large number attempt to bring attention to social issues. To achieve as much awareness as possible, these hacktivists choose targets that, through disrupted services or website defacement, will generate the most media coverage due to the services they provide.

Financial institutions have been targeted by hacktivists for a long time. The size of their user base is typically very large, and targeting an organization that handles our finances causes even the least inclined to sit up and take notice of a group’s message.

U.S. banking institutions have been targeted by Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) attacks for several years, primarily from groups whose ideals align with interests outside of the United States. The primary issue with the attacks is that while they can come in the form of defacement or DDOS, breaches can also occur. And while hacktivists may not be interested in an organization’s data from a financial standpoint, that doesn’t mean they won’t release it publicly if they feel it furthers their cause.

With any ideology, it’s difficult to combat the ideas behind the attack; however, there are steps an organization can take to prevent it from being an easy target. Since 2012, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency has recommend that banks and financial institutions take various precautions to prevent DDOS attacks, including the following:

  • have sufficient staff in place to respond to a DDOS attempt;
  • file suspicious activity reports (SARs) if an attack has affected critical information (e.g., customer account details or identifying information, or to critical systems);
  • conform to the latest authentication guidance and implement layered security; and
  • provide accurate and timely information to customers/members if there is a website issue or risk, and then explain what precautions are being taken.

Hacktivism is just one of the many threats that financial service firms face every day. To learn more about cyber security threats and best practices for the finance industry, we invite you to download our eBook here.

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