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By John Atkinson, Director of Solutions Engineering, UK & Ireland, at Riverbed Technology


The financial services industry is transforming as companies move to cloud and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications to support both work-from-anywhere business models and the creation of new, customer-centric services. Although this digitisation is driving positive change, it’s not without risk. Particularly in the financial sector in relation to security and compliance and protecting the highly sensitive data they are responsible for. This issue is being exacerbated by the ever-improving capabilities of cybercriminals. Should a financial institutions’ customers or employees become victims of undetected attacks, the organisations’ reputation, not to mention stability and financial position, could be compromised. However, these threats can be minimised through full-fidelity visibility.

Before we explain this further, we must first understand how COVID-19 has changed the way banks and other financial institutions operate and the knock-on effects of this on security and compliance.

Moving to the cloud

Over the past few years, financial services companies, who have traditionally relied on on-premises set-ups, have begun moving to the cloud. COVID-19, and its associated economic and operational challenges, prompted a rise in this trend, as organisations turned to the cloud’s flexible cost structure to minimise losses and enable new ways of working.

For example, in response to lockdown, HSBC signed a deal with Amazon Web Services (AWS), while Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank embraced Google, to mobilise affordable and effective remote working. Meanwhile, Emirates NBD began working on personalised, digital banking experiences, built on AWS, allowing it to deliver strong customer service outside of its physical branches.

As Emirates NBD illustrates, the trend towards cloud is set to continue after the pandemic. In fact, EY’s UK Banking Cloud Adoption Index indicates that over a quarter of banks will move half or more of their business to the public cloud next year. However, the research also reveals that adoption is being slowed by concerns about data security and regulatory risk.

Security and compliance complexity

All leading cloud providers bake security into their services. However, the transition of data onto external servers increases the security risk, with cybersecurity threats, including phishing and ransomware, becoming more difficult to spot without the complete visibility that only comes on-premises.

The same challenges apply for SaaS applications as they are cloud-based. Although applications such as Office365, Slack, and Salesforce are enabling smooth remote working and the delivery of a strong level of customer service, they’re also widening the threat surface endangering these benefits. As the demand for SaaS grows – Gartner predicts that SaaS revenue will have increased to $140.6 billion by 2022, a $38.5 billion increase from 2019 – so too will the issue.

What’s more, employees aren’t just using the SaaS applications their organisations sanction. They’re also creating private accounts for the applications of their choosing to maximise productivity. For instance, signing up to Slack to facilitate collaboration, or using WeTransfer to share files with co-workers if they feel the corporate VPN is obstructively slow. While staff are carrying out these actions with the best intentions, they’re extending the security perimeter by generating a new form of Shadow IT that their employers simply don’t have visibility over.

The lack of visibility caused by employee-run tools, the move to cloud, and SaaS are significantly impairing IT’s ability to monitor end-to-end traffic patterns. As a result, this means that they can’t identify divergences from the norm that could indicate a security or compliance breach that needs addressing.

Overcoming the threat by regaining visibility

The good news is that banks and other financial companies can regain full-fidelity or complete visibility. They can do this by developing a careful vetting process for the cloud-based applications they use, in tandem with clearly communicating their policies on employees using unsanctioned apps. With these steps in place, they can gather and document the data being created across the enterprise – including both their cloud and on-premises infrastructure – to create a complete end-to-end picture of their entire IT infrastructure.

Manually collecting this information is virtually impossible, so organisations need to invest in Network Performance Monitoring (NPM) tools to automate the process. With the data gathered in one place, companies are empowered to conduct regular risk assessments and remediate threats. For example, comparing the age of staff passwords against corporate policies, and requesting employees change them if needed to protect data and ensure compliance. Beyond gathering information, these solutions can also generate benchmarks for ‘normal’ activity and flag anything that falls outside of these parameters to IT for further investigation. This approach ultimately supports cyber forensics, threat hunting, and incident response – a security benefit embraced by many of Riverbed’s NPM customers.

Secure and compliant digital transformation

Financial organisations must maintain strong levels of security and compliance as they digitise. Central to this is attaining complete visibility over the whole digital estate, regardless of the physical location of employees or whether data is being held in the cloud or on-premises. Equipped with this insight, companies can identify threats and strategise effective solutions. This means staff can work both effectively and securely, all data can be safeguarded, and compliance can be guaranteed in the new, digital environment.

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