3 Attack Vectors that Expose Data at Financial Services Firms

Apr 20, 2023
May 15, 2024
Jonathan Sharabi
3 Attack Vectors that Expose Data at Financial Services Firms

Money and data: the two resources that cybercriminals want and the two resources financial services firms must secure. Those responsible for security in banks, mortgage companies, fintech and other financial services firms are well aware of this fact. 

But just like the recently reported attack on Flagstar Bank (exposing data belonging to 1.5 million customers), attacks on financial services firms still succeed. Financial services now make up 18% of all cyber attacks. So what are financial services security teams missing? 

Attack Vectors That Keep Financial Services Firms’ Security Teams Up At Night

Even the most well-defended financial services firms can miss threats that come through these three attack vectors:


Whether called spear phishing, whaling, or business email compromise, targeted phishing attacks get past even the most robust security perimeter and email filters. No organization is immune to this attack vector, no matter how cutting-edge. Fintech firm Revolut suffered a data breach after a “highly targeted” social engineering attack, which likely involved phishing. The attack exposed data belonging to over 50,000 customers. 

Cloud vulnerabilities

The financial services industry (FSI) has sprinted into the cloud. Efforts to secure this shift have moved at a walking pace. Even understanding where security responsibility starts and ends in public and hybrid cloud environments can be very difficult. The result is more data stores being exposed to the open web and more data leaking online through accidental exposure. This kind of mistake, often stemming from a misconfiguration, was reportedly responsible for 15% of all data breaches in 2022.

Insider risks

Insider risks lead to some of the worst cybercrime outcomes for firms and are among the hardest to stop. Insider-driven sensitive data exposure by trusted individuals can be accidental or malicious. Still, all of the worst insider risk incidents share something in common: an unnecessarily high level of permissions granted to employees.

Data Security Challenges Every Financial Services Firm Faces

More data, more problems. Greater volumes of data can power incredible growth while also compounding risks. When safeguarding data, every financial services firm faces one or more of these persistent data security challenges:

Inventorying sensitive data

Data input is growing much faster than most financial services firms’ ability to inventory it. Cataloging tools are often to blame. Security professionals frequently rely on manual and disconnected tools designed for IT or data governance users. Few of these solutions are designed for the speed at which new data is generated, moved, or changed, and most struggle to keep up with FSI governance and risk reduction requirements. Security professionals at financial services firms are often limited in what they can safeguard based on the limited number of data stores they know about. 

Uniform data labeling 

Financial services firms struggle to maintain a coherent system for labeling the sensitivity or confidentiality of data. Within a single organization, some teams might use a four-level system (highly restricted, restricted, internal, and public), while other teams may use a seven-level system instead. Still other teams within the same organization could have different definitions of what  “restricted” means. This all too common scenario results in inconsistent understanding and application of sensitivity labels to data. The end result is reduced security. 

Many FSI firms depend on sensitivity labeling as the foundation for determining where data should be stored, who should access it, and how it should be obfuscated. Without uniform labeling, security teams cannot confidently know how best to safeguard data. 

Implementing security controls for data 

Financial services firms must implement security controls such as encryption, logging, and access control to keep data safe. To do this, they first need to know where data is and how to treat it based on its sensitivity and classification. Unfortunately, most companies fail to apply controls because their data is not classified to the point where they can figure out what needs to be secure. A survey by the Bank of England found that 60% of financial services firms are at risk of a data breach due to poorly managed data. 

5 Questions Financial Services Firms Must Answer

The above paints a bleak picture for financial services firms’ data security. Fortunately, there is an accessible solution to these issues. 

To improve data security, it helps to think about five key questions a financial services firm needs to answer. These questions are questions cybercriminals ask when they try to get at your data: 

  • Where is it? All of it, not just known data stores.
  • What is it? How sensitive is it?
  • How is it used? For business processes, record keeping, analytics, etc. 
  • How to secure it? Is it encrypted? Who in your organization can access it?
  • How to defend it? Can emerging and active risks be quickly detected and resolved? 

Can your current solutions and processes answer these questions for all your existing and incoming data? If not, it’s time to shift gears. The only way to stay on top of data risk is to rely on a holistic data security solution to inventory, classify, contextualize, and safeguard your data. Your data is fluid. The way you secure it should be too. 

How Cyera Helps Financial Services Firms Protect Their Data

Financial services firms must take a data-aware approach to prevent loss of data through popular attack vectors. 

Cyera’s data security platform provides deep context on your data, applying correct, continuous controls to assure cyber-resilience and compliance.

Cyera takes a data-centric approach to security, assessing the exposure to your data at rest and in use and applying multiple layers of defense. Because Cyera applies deep data context holistically across your data landscape, we are the only solution that can empower security teams to know where their data is, what exposes it to risk, and take immediate action to remediate exposures and assure compliance without disrupting the business. 

To learn more about how Cyera can help FSI firms secure their data, schedule a demo today.