Over the last several years, the banking and financial services sectors have seen a huge increase in ransomware attacks and other cyber threats worldwide. This increase in cyberattacks has resulted from several factors:

  • New opportunities for social engineering attacks resulting from the pandemic;
  • Increased profitability of miner malware;
  • Lack of scalable cybersecurity and information security solutions within organizations.

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) lists the financial services industry as a critical infrastructure sector because this sector is a high-priority target for cybercriminals worldwide. Financial sector vulnerabilities and cybersecurity threats can produce a cascading effect, leading to systemic disruptions across the larger economy.

All organizations, and especially those within the financial sector, should include cybersecurity risk management in their enterprise risk management programs to protect stakeholders, prevent data breaches, and mitigate the operational risks that cybercrimes bring.

Common Cyber Concerns in Financial Services

Financial institutions are the front line of commerce, so attackers target these firms all the time with new and improved strategies to access IT systems and circumvent network security.

The following list of threats can serve as a guide for chief information security officers (CISOs) when performing cybersecurity risk assessments and cyber risk analysis, or when implementing effective security measures.

Insider Threats

The main security risk for financial services firms is the insider threat. Some employees will be tempted to engage in malicious conduct; others will blunder into costly accidents or mistakes. Insider threats can exist in all sorts of specific weaknesses, and they can be tricky to eradicate since so often you must deal with humans – training, policy, disciplinary action – rather than straightforward technical controls.


Malware is a harmful program that takes control of the network to modify, extract, or delete information (among other activities). Sometimes malware is the gateway to other more devastating cybercrime schemes, so measures to fight malware should always be a high security priority.


Although ransomware is a type of malware, it has become the top threat to businesses worldwide thanks to the advent of ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) models. Ransomware is malicious software that disables an organization’s IT ecosystem until the victims pay a ransom to the attackers.

The new RaaS models leverage the harm of data breaches for enterprises to generate another element of pressure on their scheme. For example, the latest ransomware extracts information simultaneously as it is encrypted. This technique enables the cybercriminals to threaten to leak the data if payment isn’t made promptly.

Phishing and Other Social Engineering

Social engineering attacks are a common threat to individuals and businesses alike. Cybercriminals will try to collect information about your employees, and then craft a carefully designed email message intended to dupe the employee into sharing valuable information. Phishing attacks also often seek to install malicious software through attachments or phony websites.

Denial of Services

Denial of service (DoS) and distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks try to overload a network with bogus requests, which consequently disrupts the legitimate operation of IT systems. These threats can be politically or commercially motivated. They effectively divide incident response resources to carry out other cyberattacks on the organization.

Watering Hole

This is a two-step cyberattack and has recently become famous for targeting financial institutions. Hackers identify insecure applications or websites that a group of employees commonly use or visit. The hackers exploit that insecure application first, and then use it to infect the target.

Gaining Operational Resilience Through Risk Management

Investing in cybersecurity risk management isn’t just about avoiding the harmful effects of cyber threats; it’s also about realizing the benefits of a strong cybersecurity culture. In addition to reducing regulatory risks by staying ahead of compliance obligations, better operational resilience helps a company’s reputation in a business environment where users demand data protection for their information.

At least some cybersecurity attacks will happen; that’s inevitable. A robust risk management program, however, can increase your preparedness for cybersecurity threats and minimize downtime in your operational processes.

Following are best practices to consider when creating a cybersecurity risk management program:

  • Use cybersecurity standards and frameworks. Even absent any regulatory requirement, use the strategies and processes developed by specialized organizations to help build your own cybersecurity strategy. ISO 27001 or the NIST Cybersecurity Framework are good starting points.
  • Create and maintain a cybersecurity awareness culture. Enforcing internal policies on the use of removable devices, periodic cybersecurity awareness training, and a clear tone from the top can all make a difference in mitigating or reducing cyber risks. (The National Institute of Standards and Technology provides a practical cybersecurity training guide in NIST SP 800-50.)
  • Use third-party service providers. Some risks are too complex to mitigate on your own, so it may help to use service providers to fill the gaps in an internal cybersecurity structure. Examples include Cloudflare to mitigate DDoS risks; cyber insurance companies to offset the costs of ransomware attacks; and ZenGRC to monitor risks and non-compliance around your company.
  • Deploy advanced access controls. Advanced access control techniques can systematically protect your systems. For example, multi-factor authentication limits access to the network and devices; data segmentation rules can minimize the impact and extent of data leaks.
  • Keep your devices and software updated. Legacy software is one of the leading causes of computer infections, since it leaves devices vulnerable to discovered weaknesses. Always patch outdated software, and if it’s no longer being supported and patched, consider an alternative.

ZenGRC Can Help You Manage Financial Risks

Covering all risk management procedures on your own is difficult. ZenGRC’s software-as-a-service compliance solutions give real-time insight into the efficacy of your company’s risk management policies.

ZenGRC is a governance, risk management, and compliance platform that provides a single source of truth with document storage, automated workflows, and insightful reporting. Together, these tools help you spot audit and information security issues across your entire enterprise before they become a problem.

ZenGRC can also monitor your compliance status in real-time across multiple frameworks, including PCI DSS, HIPAA, FedRAMP, and more. Improve your overall security posture by seeing your gaps and what needs to be done to fix them.

Request a demo today to learn how ZenGRC can assist you with cybersecurity risk management.