5 Best Practices for Financial Institutions to Provide Secure Remote Access.

Banks, credit unions, insurance companies, and investment services have always competed for client attention by delivering the highest service levels — transparently and securely. Today’s cloud computing and remote access technologies provide many new opportunities and channels for these institutions to serve and gratify their customers.

However, the digital environment can be challenging for financial institutions, and one that adds more competitors almost daily. Institutions in the financial services industry must engage with customers online in ways that remain secure and compliant with the various industry regulations that govern them.

Moreover, as technology evolves rapidly, increased accessibility enables the threat of attack by cyber criminals. These cyber threats are constantly changing as new vulnerabilities appear almost daily, and defense strategies must be updated continuously. Cyberattacks may manifest as phishing, spear phishing, social engineering attacks and others.

These attacks may result in direct theft from accounts, identity theft or business disruptions caused by malicious ransomware. Any of these scenarios can result in high recovery costs, reimbursement to customers, and steep penalties from regulators.

FinTech startups bring more competition for institutions

While the threat from cyber criminals is not to be understated, traditional financial services institutions are also under attack of a different kind. Technology firms are finding new ways to disrupt the financial sector.

FinTech companies use the infrastructure, platforms, and designs that they have applied successfully everywhere else in the digital realm, raising the expectations for what the ideal customer experience can and should be. To defend against these FinTech interlopers, banking institutions and investment companies need to adapt to these changing expectations and embrace new technologies.

Customers demand the highest standards of service from all online engagements. When trust is the priority, as it must be for all financial transactions, the experience for the customer has to be flawless. Given the knowledge and capital assets that financial institutions hold in-house, this should be a reasonable challenge to meet. At the same time, however, institutions must always find the right balance between functionality and protection against cyber threats.

The 5 best practices for secure remote access in financial institutions

Compliance is fundamental to remote access for financial information systems. The regulations and guidelines define the need for security in particular financial activities.

The five best practices defined here help financial institutions stay ahead of the threats (and their competition) while also providing customer experiences that are aligned with the modern customer’s expectations.

  • Implement a secure remote-access administration service:

Remote access to financial information systems should be seamless and secure. At the minimum, companies must keep servers protected behind firewalls and require two-factor authentication for access from remote clients.

At the same time, the remote access user experience needs to be intuitive and seamless for non-technical users. All users should be able to stay within compliance standards without special training or guidance.

  • Continuously update operating systems and antivirus software

To prepare for the dynamic threats of cyber security breaches, IT departments need to ensure that all software versions stay up-to-date and to patch vulnerabilities as soon as they become known. Likewise, all anti-virus systems must keep up with published threats.

  • Build a culture of best practices

Regardless of whether companies have invested in the most sophisticated cyber defenses, when users do not conduct themselves with security best practices in mind, it leaves the system open to attack. Train and inform customers and employees about best practices and to choose passwords that are unique and difficult to crack.

Employees must be aware of the vulnerability of email, and that links in email messages are potential attack vectors. Internal users should only have as much authority as is required for their position.

  • Set up continuous access monitoring

Central control of remote access is fundamental for financial companies. Administrators must have the capability to monitor and terminate suspicious traffic in real time.

  • Develop a comprehensive backup and recovery plan

A disaster recovery plan that defines roles and responsibilities if an attack should succeed in taking down the system should be in place. It should designate managers and admins to respond, set procedures that minimize the losses and facilitate rapid recovery, if the unthinkable occurs.

Take action before the threats grow

The growth of competition within the industry and the sophistication with which criminals pursue financial companies are intense. However, the urge to delay action in adding remote services and implementing secure remote access policies and protocols is not a viable path of action.

The future will bring more threats and ever more creative competitors at accelerating rates. Financial institutions have the tools and the talent to stay in the game and attract and protect the customers. Financial services providers must treat security with urgency and diligence.

As long as financial institutions are transparent about delivering secure and seamless remote access, their customers will continue to look to them as the best option to work with. The five security practices described here provide solid foundations upon which to build secure remote access to financial systems.

Ilan Paretsky: