Banks adopt military-style tactics to fight cybercrime

Despite the lingering misconception that the consequences of cybercrime are somehow less ‘real’ than those of traditional crime, authorities as well as industry leaders are now acknowledging that it is one of our era’s major threats. Concerns about state-sponsored attacks on CNI are growing, as are worries about cyberespionage and the havoc attacks could wreak on financial institutions.

Though the latter of those three sounds least like the plot of an action movie, the impact on the national and global economy could be disastrous. And given the resources financial institutions have at their disposal (and at risk), it should come as no surprise that they’re treating this threat just as seriously as a more tangible assault.

This is not that different from terrorists and drug cartels. Fundamentally, threat networks operate in similar ways.

– Matt Nyman, head of Mastercard’s fusion center

The cybersecurity teams of many major financial institutions are headed up by former ‘cyberspies’, soldiers and counterintelligence operatives – as indeed are many of the emerging cybersecurity startups. Mastercard is no exception, with its fusion center being helmed by Matt Nyman, a former Delta Force soldier who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“This is not that different from terrorists and drug cartels,” Nyman told the New York Times. “Fundamentally, threat networks operate in similar ways.”

And for many, who realise the potentially devastating impact of a successful cyberattack, no expense is spared. According to Brian T. Moynihan, CEO of Bank of America, his cybersecurity team is “the only place in the company that doesn’t have a budget constraint.”

We’ve discussed cyber ranges before – Mastercard’s ‘fusion center’ is one of them, the alternate name coming from the intelligence-gathering and incident-response co-ordination centres set up by DHS after 9/11. Several major US banks already have one, and more are in the works.

By allowing cybersecurity teams to experience simulated cyberattacks in a safe setting, the idea is that they can dramatically impact the success of a team’s response if the situation were to occur in real life.

“It’s the idea of muscle memory,” said Citigroup CISO Thomas Harrington, who spent 28 years with the F.B.I. However well-qualified your team may be, previous experience with a situation is vital to quickly determining the best course of action in the heat of the moment.

“Those are the decisions you don’t want to be making for the first time during a real attack,” said Bob Stasio, IBM’s cyber range operations manager.

As cyberattacks continue to grow in number and sophistication, and to attract significant media attention, this quasi-military approach may – at least for heavily targeted sectors such as finance and CNI, with the potential to cause wide-scale chaos – become increasingly necessary.

For more on the topic, see the New York Times’ full article on Mastercard’s fusion center.

Researcher, writer, recovering medievalist. Currently particularly interested in the cybersecurity solutions market, cyber insurance/risk modelling, and IoT security.

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