The 5 Areas of Cyber Security Every Credit Union Needs to Own

by | Apr 30, 2020 | Business, Cyber Security

Cyber Security incidents have impacted several high-profile financial institutions in recent years. But you might be surprised to know that big corporations are not the only targets of Cyber Crime. We have talked about it at length in previous posts about Staff Training, Multi-Factor Authentication, and Business Continuity Planning, but the truth is that smaller organizations are also harassed by Cyber Criminals. This is partly because they are easier targets. They don’t have massive resources available to dedicate to Cyber Security.

Macro Connect has over twenty years of experience helping many businesses safely manage financial and personal information. We created this guide so that more of Michigan’s Credit Unions can improve their Cyber Security measures. As you move faster into digital banking services, your members will want more and more remote access to their accounts. And as the business world evolves with more people working from home, your employees will also need secure access to member data outside the confines of your branches.

Getting Straight to The Point: Our Five Areas to Own

Our five critical Cyber Security areas of focus are built on a framework developed by the NIST, the National Institute of Standards and Technology. In short, these five areas cover the primary actions taken before, during, and after a cyber security incident. They help all businesses, especially Credit Unions and other financial institutions, to limit the risk of a breach, mitigate the impact of a breach, and get back to business should a breach occur. These five areas are:

  • Identify: Arm yourselves with the tools and resources you need to identify weak points before an incident occurs. The best case scenario is a lock-tight system that never experiences a breach.
  • Protect: Develop and implement safeguards to reduce your risk of an incident, whether that is blocking attacks or training your staff to operate safely.
  • Detect: Adopt measures to detect and flag suspicious activity before it penetrates your network so that you can stop an attack in its tracks.
  • Respond: Craft a plan to guide your actions in the event of a breach so that you can move quickly and intelligently during stressful situations.
  • Recover: Design a plan that helps you both restore your financial services and improve your security measures to prevent future incidents.

Think you already own these five areas?
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Identify: Know Your Assets and Liabilities

Credit Unions and other financial institutions need to understand the full scope of their digital environment to effectively manage Cyber Security risks. That means understanding all of your hardware and software assets, how and where their data is stored, and the functions each system is asked to perform. It is also essential that you have full visibility into the connections throughout your network and defined roles and responsibilities for each employee.

Once you have all this information organized, you can assemble policies and procedures to help manage the risk present across your entire IT system. Some important questions to ask include:

  • Are all 3rd party technologies relationships like offsite data hosting and IT vendors subject to security assessments?
  • Do you review documents like your Privacy Policy, Social Media Policy, and Remote Operating Procedure?
  • Are clear contracts in place with every vendor who has access to sensitive personal and financial information?

After answering questions like these, you can start identifying the gaps in your Cyber Security policies. And once you identify those gaps, you can move onto the next step, which helps protect you by filling those vulnerabilities.

Protect: Safeguard Your System

After identifying vulnerabilities, you should move on to adopting rigorous protection strategies that limit or contain those risks. Some baseline measures include controlling access to digital assets like member data, and physical assets like computers. Other protection measures involve staff training. As much as 95% of all Cyber Security incidents are caused by human error. A well-trained staff may actually be your best line of defense. We also recommend deploying protective technology and regularly repairing or replacing system components.

When we work with businesses like Credit Unions, we typically ask questions like:

  • Do you use Multi-Factor Authentication for all remotely accessible applications?
  • How do you distribute user application credentials?
  • Do you use patch management software to keep all software up to date?

With your protection measures in place, it is time to look at your ability to detect suspicious or malicious activity.

Detect: Recognize and React to Threats

The third area of Cyber Security that Credit Unions need to master is all about quick reflexes. This means detecting a Cyber Security incident before it can do too much damage. Organizations need to adopt continuous monitoring solutions that detect suspicious activity and other threats to their operational continuity. One way to test your system is called Threat Hunting, where you think like a hacker and try to break into your own computers. That way you can discover any weak points and secure them before a real hacker finds them.

While addressing the Detection area of Cyber Security, our team always makes sure to ask:

  • Is security event data collected and correlated in a central repository?
  • What kind of vulnerability testing do you employ on your Local Area Network?
  • Are network application defense systems monitored and are alerts sent to key staff in the event of an incident?

Once you’ve protected your system and feel like you can quickly detect an incident, you can start thinking about how you will respond if someone still manages to penetrate your network.

Respond: Contain the Impact

If a Cyber Security event occurs, the ability to contain the impact is of utmost importance. That means you need to create a response plan that defines communication responsibilities and details the way data will be collected and analyzed. The plan should also direct the activities required to eradicate the incident and incorporate lessons learned into a revised response strategy in the event of future incidents.

The questions here are more process focused and so they are more about plans than actual tools. So when thinking about how to will respond to an incident, you need to ask yourself:

  • Do you have a documented communication plan to inform all stakeholders about what happened and what you are doing to resolve it?
  • Is there a formal process in place for investigating and documenting security events?
  • Are tools in place to minimize, mitigate, and resolve Cyber Security incidents?

With the Respond area of Cyber Security under control, you can wrap up the planning process by moving onto the Recovery phase.

Recover: Moving on After an Incident

A Cyber Security breach can cause destructive interruptions to operations and member trust. And you can’t exactly close up shop for a few weeks to figure out what to do next. You need a detailed recovery plan in place that your team can follow, step-by-step, to return to normal business as quickly as possible. And this plan should help coordinate restoration activities with both internal and external parties. Cyber Security breaches can feel paralyzing, so defining a prioritized list of action steps ahead of time is critical for making a timely recovery.

When reviewing a Credit Union’s Cyber Security recovery plan, Macro Connect team members explore the following:

  • Does your organization have a framework to guide the recovery process?
  • Are procedures in place to ensure that areas for improvement are identified and incorporated into future Cyber Security efforts?
  • Is there a plan to guide both internal and external communication during the recovery process?

When you can answer these questions, you are in a strong position to recover from any Cyber Security breach.

Take Our Quick Vulnerability Quiz

The questions in this post cover just a small part of Macro Connect’s Cyber Security planning process. Our full audit includes over 100 detailed questions that can help any Credit Union prepare for, defend against, and recover from a Cyber Security event.

If you’re not ready for a full audit, try our quick online Vulnerability quiz. It’s just 14 questions to help you get a baseline understanding of your Cyber Security preparedness. You’ve got 2 minutes, right? Take the quiz today!

And if you have any questions about Cyber Security for your Credit Union, don’t hesitate to call us, message us, or schedule a conversation for later.

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