Contributor:
Andrew Avanessian
February 17th, 2015

$1bn financial services attack – Why Defense in Depth could have mitigated the damage

A new report from Kaspersky Labs claims up to 100 banks and financial institutions have been attacked in an “unprecedented cyber robbery”.

Initial estimates suggest that $1bn has been stolen in the attacks, which are believed to have started in 2013 and are potentially still ongoing. It’s thought the attacks have taken place across 30 different countries, including the US, Canada, Germany, Russia, China and Ukraine.

It’s understood that a cyber gang, dubbed Carbanak, with members in Russia, Ukraine and China is reported to be behind the attack. The gang, used computer viruses to infect the corporate networks with malware including video surveillance, enabling it to see and record everything that happened on employees screens.

The report suggests that on average each bank robbery took between two and four months, with up to $10m stolen at any one time.

The sophistication of this attack, whereby criminals extract funds from the banks themselves and not end users, is a significant development and a concerning new weapon in the arsenal of criminal gangs.

As financial institutions assess the damage, the scale of this attack should provide added impetuous for IT teams to ensure they have adequate protection in place to mitigate and prevent these attacks in the future.

So what can be done?

Though there’s no doubt about the sophistication of this attack, there are steps an organization can take to help tackle cyber criminals head on. One effective approach is Defense in Depth (DiD).

The concept of DiD originated from a military defense strategy that forces an attacker to spend up its resources by overcoming a series of obstacles. However, in the realm of cyber security, DiD refers to a layered security strategy that combines both reactive and proactive measures to create an all-inclusive security solution.

DiD works by layering assets in a series of defensive measures that will deter attackers. The overlap of these layers of defense aim to ensure that the shortcomings of one security control are covered by another.

The success of any DiD strategy however depends on how the strategy is layered. If a strategy contains the essential and proactive layers of application whitelisting, operating system and application patching, privilege management and sandboxing at its heart, evidence suggests it will be robust enough to offer protection. These are strategies that are always recommended as essential by analysts and security experts such as SANS.

If your strategy only includes a few of these areas, then holes start to appear that can be easily exploited by external or internal sources. You don’t need to have a sophisticated and elaborate security strategy to prevent attacks, simply implementing these standard best practices can be hugely beneficial.

Of course the reality of the situation is that with hackers becoming increasingly savvy, smart and targeted in their criminality, no IT security strategy is 100% foolproof. There is no silver bullet.

But by taking lessons from history, including this latest high profile attack, you can face the future with much more confidence.

Find out more about Defense in Depth and how our new Defendpoint product can help, by visiting http://www.avecto.com/defendpoint

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