Is the financial sector the most vulnerable to cyber attacks?

The financial services industry is crucial to the health of the UK economy – accounting for more than a million jobs (double that employed in agriculture, for example) and contributing more than £120 billion in gross value added. The country has a healthy trade surplus of £60 billion-plus in this sector – and it’s one of the many reasons why politicians are keen to secure London’s predominance as a global financial powerhouse as part of the ongoing Brexit talks.

But, when you put yourself up on a pedestal there’s always a chance that you make yourself a target, especially when it’s about money. Where there’s money, there’s a chance that a criminal sees an opportunity to take it.

Already, therefore, we can see why it’s only natural that the UK’s successful financial sector is vulnerable to cyber attacks. Worldwide, we can see that only healthcare ranks above financial services when it comes to the areas in most danger from digital threats. But that only deals with the motive and opportunity for such crimes. There are also other circumstances which are posing a risk to this sector – and ones that really ought to spark alarm.

Security shock

A study of UK-based IT professionals working in the financial services industry, commissioned by VMWare, found that two-thirds admitted to cybersecurity practices in their respective organizations that would ‘shock outsiders’.

Among the findings of the survey were that:

  • 90% of respondents felt they had to make compromises when protecting their organization against cyber threats – half saying they do this regularly
  • 71% felt there was a focus on e-banking and customer applications at the expense of internal systems and trading data
  • 53% said their leadership team did not understand the complex nature of cyber threats
  • 62% said they struggle to secure funding for urgent cybersecurity

Ian Jenkins, head of network and security at VMWare, said: “Those on the front line defending against cyber threats clearly feel there are significant flaws ready to be exploited. This should act as a wake-up call that there are serious risks to data if security isn’t baked into everything the organizations do. Ignoring them and the compromises they’re having to make could be hugely damaging.”

Cause for concern

This raises serious questions about the foundations on which the financial services sector is built. As the push to embrace digital technologies continues, everyone in the sector – from big banks to Fintech disruptors – cannot lose sight of the need for security.

The survey above acts as something of a cry for help from professionals who clearly feel we aren’t taking this seriously enough. It is this attitude that adds an unnecessary level of vulnerability to the sector and makes it more prone to attack that should be the case.

If this isn’t fixed, we’ll all feel the impact. Whether you’re a currency trader who spends your time weighing up a forex contract size and sounding out the health of sterling, a politician negotiating the finer points of the Brexit deal in need of leverage, a consumer managing your money on a smartphone app or one of the million people employed in this sector, the safety and security of the financial services industry is vitally important and really ought to be treated with greater urgency.

Image credit: Shutterstock

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Patrick Vernon