Email Security for FSIs: Merging malware detection with IT forensics

Oliver Prevrhal, Managing Director, Retarus Asia

Financial institutions today are getting on board the digital bandwagon and increasingly see the importance of cyber security. This is especially so in Singapore, an island-state driven by strong regulatory guidance, in both the government and financial sector embracing innovation on digital platforms while rolling out initiatives and regulations to balance safety and security.

With digitalization, the number of emails sent from the office is on the rise, and this in turn leading to an increase in cybercriminal activity, and an overall weakened cyber security posture. According to Ernst & Young, 86% state that cyber security does not fully meet organizational needs, experiencing threats such as data theft, malware, fraud and zero-day attacks.

Such activities are becoming increasingly prominent in financial institutions around Asia. The Association of Banks in Malaysia recently flagged a social engineering case, advising the public to ignore calls and emails purportedly from banks requesting for identity cards and other information from them. In another instance, a bank official from India’s Union Bank accidentally opened an email, enabling the theft of $171 million from the bank.

Figure 1: Financial Institutions are unprepared

State of cyber threat unreadiness

Source: Path to cyber resilience: sense, resiste, react, Ernst & Young 2017

In light of emails being one of the main channels of cybercriminal activities, it is more crucial than ever that financial institutions look into reliable malware detection and IT forensics, tightening their grip on securing bank activities.

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Increasing sophistication and amount of cyber attacks through emails
Today’s cyber attacks via emails are more sophisticated and the amount of attacks is on the rise. Trend Micro reported that more than 90% of targeted attacks begin with a spear phishing email. For example, the recent DNSMessenger attack started with a malicious Microsoft Word document masquerading as a protected document, which was distributed by means of an email. As soon as recipients enabled the content, malicious script embedded in the document was executed.

Retarus also observed that the average number of viruses unearthed per month in 2016 amounted to 3.5 times the number of viruses monitored over the whole of 2015, meaning that the amount of viruses rose by a factor of 42 in a year-on-year comparison. AV-Test Institute moreover registered over 390,000 new instances of malicious software every day, meaning an average of 270 new computer viruses per minute.

No foolproof protection
This is why the implementation of powerful technological solutions for virus protection, for intelligent filtering of spam and phishing, and to block threatening attachments is important in protecting financial institutions’ crown jewels—customer and corporate assets and data, while also preventing financial and reputational damage.