It should come as no surprise that the pandemic hindered traditional crime groups from conducting business as usual. When the world shut down, criminals were forced to migrate their activities online and collaborate with existing cybercrime cartels, creating a surge in attacks that most organizations were not prepared for. For example, financial institutions saw a 118% increase in destructive attacks from 2020, as they were heavily targeted by the most advanced cybercrime cartels across the globe and their new affiliate networks.

Given the escalation from a modern bank heist to a virtual hostage situation we’ve witnessed over the past year, it is time financial institutions rethink their security posture and defense tactics to stay one step ahead of the adversary. This requires first taking a closer look at the recent evolution of cybercriminals and analyzing today’s most common attacks.

The Evolution of Cybercriminals

The formation of cybercrime cartels over the past few years has also unveiled new levels of organization and sophistication in their tactics. Two prime examples can be seen with the increase in attacks against targeted market strategies and the rise in the manipulation of timestamps, or Chronos attacks. Adversaries are no longer only after the ransom payment that comes as a result of hacking your network because they have discovered your data is now more valuable than your money. In early 2021, financial institutions saw an increase in attacks against targeted market strategies by 51%. Attackers identified that infiltrating a portfolio manager’s personal device allows them to be omniscient and obtain nonpublic market information that can be used to facilitate digital insider trading. Additionally, cybercriminals have found they can avoid detection through the manipulation of time stamps. This calls for a greater level of attention to be paid to the integrity of time, slowing the chance of adversaries altering the value of capital or trades in the future.

The Escalation

Gone are the days of traditional bank heists. Recent data from VMware found financial institutions (FIs) are facing a 38% increase in island hopping attacks, wherein the digital transformation of the institution is commandeered to launch attacks against its customers. FI’s and their customers are increasingly experiencing watering hole and application attacks as well as an increase in attacks that island-hop through the APIs of fintech vendors. The heist is escalating to a hostage situation as banking environments are being hijacked.

What Defenders Can Do

Implementing proactive strategies such as weekly threat hunting can help organizations be prepared for attacks and give security teams a deeper understanding of their threat environment. In addition, employing micro-segmentation and integrating your endpoint protection platform with your network detection and response is imperative in order to reinforce the FI’s security posture against these brazen cybercrime cartels.

The landscape has changed. Cybercrime is evolving and their elegant attacks show no sign of slowing down as the threat surface continues to expand as a result of the anywhere workforce. Leadership must appreciate that cybersecurity is no longer an expense but a functionality of conducting business. Trust and confidence in the safety and soundness of the future of the financial sector will depend on a proactive cybersecurity strategy.