By Tarun Khandelwal, an executive security advisor to the financial services industry and the former Head of Security Architecture at CIBC, and a Palo Alto Networks customer\n\n\n\nWe\u2019ve all seen movies and TV shows where SWAT teams or military forces take heroic steps to safeguard lives and property in the event of a bomb threat. Chief among the defensive efforts they put in place are ways to reduce the impact of a potential explosion\u2014reducing the blast surface. Often, they use machines such as remote-controlled robots to safeguard their human team members. Obviously, they want to prevent the blast from happening in the first place, but at the very least, they want to ensure they can mitigate its impact as much as possible.\n\nThe same approach holds true for thwarting cybersecurity attacks, particularly in the \u201ctarget-rich\u201d financial services industry. Although financial services firms have often been in the forefront of adopting cybersecurity tools, technologies, and processes because of the nature of their industry\u2014after all, it\u2019s where the money is\u2014more needs to be done. The bad guys are relentless, while also increasingly sophisticated in their attacks.\n\nThis has put intensified pressure on the financial industry to not just adopt a Zero Trust model of cybersecurity protection, but to aggressively embrace the ideals of Zero Trust: Trust nothing and no one, log everything, and invest heavily to validate users and machines.\n\nA ripe target\n\nIt may seem obvious to those of us in this vertical market, but it bears repeating: The financial services sector may be the single-most-targeted industry for cyberattacks. A recent headline from an IDC report stated it bluntly: The financial industry is more susceptible to IS infrastructure security breaches than other industries.\n\nThe IDC data is stark: 96% of IT and security professionals said their organization has been attacked by viruses, and the financial industry is 50% more likely to be targeted for unauthorized-use attacks than are organizations in all other industries. The IDC analyst authoring the report said it well: \u201cFor these (financial services) companies, security is not a value-added feature. It\u2019s a core requirement for conducting business.\u201d\n\nWhile the financial services industry has always been an attractive target for hackers, the impact of how work has changed during COVID-19 has raised the stakes even higher. Research done with UK-based IT and security professionals points out that most believe COVID-induced work-from-home practices and remote work are accelerating attack risks in the financial services industry.\n\nI\u2019m sure no one was surprised by these revelations, given the attractiveness of financial services data, such as customer records and personally identifiable information\u2026let alone the ability to actually steal money and other financial assets. Many of us also know that cyber thieves are using \u201cmachines\u201d to do their dirty work, such as automated attack tools, as well as artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms.\n\nAnother challenge is that our industry has an increased use of what I call \u201cephemeral computing,\u201d such as cloud services and on demand technology services. While cloud is arguably more secure than any single organization\u2019s data center, misconfigurations and oversight can leave an organization\u2019s crown jewel data exposed in public, as we\u2019ve seen with an increased number of highly public stories. Many organizations still apply manual procedures to highly automated ephemeral technology. \n\nUsing Zero Trust to reduce your blast surface\n\nUndoubtedly, all CISOs reading this article, as well as nearly all business leaders and board members, are well aware of the importance of Zero Trust. By starting with an assumption that we must view any attempt to access information with suspicion and whose credentials must be validated, we take the first step toward reducing the blast surface.\n\nBut in order to fully exploit the benefits of a Zero Trust framework, financial services organizations need to keep in mind that Zero Trust is not an event\u2014it\u2019s a journey. You must start with an initial step, and proceed with painstaking discipline and a willingness to abide by the key principles of Zero Trust.\n\nSpecifically, financial services companies must:\n\nSecurity is everyone\u2019s business\u2014but someone has to take the lead\n\nOne of the key elements of Zero Trust is that it\u2019s not just the responsibility of the information security and IT teams to implement, manage, and review. The entire organization must have a Zero Trust commitment, especially in the financial services sector where we have so many touchpoints, and the regulatory, legal, operational, and brand risks of messing up can be devastating.\n\nIn fact, Zero Trust is so essential to a successful cybersecurity defense in financial services that CEOs, CFOs, and other non-technical C-suite executives must set the right example. The risk management team alone can\u2019t do it because they are often seen as the \u201coffice of No,\u201d often viewed with scorn by many rank-and-file employees. Leadership must accept ownership of Zero Trust, and must endorse full-bodied investment in Zero Trust tools, technologies, services, and processes. Business executives sponsoring new initiatives can protect their larger organizations by inspecting and insisting on allocating sufficient funding to go towards information security as part of the initiative.\n\nIt\u2019s also important for leadership to be willing to commit to investments in security automation (our own machines) to combat the smart tools used by hackers. That\u2019s because we, as an industry, still rely too much on manual, human-powered processes. Even though our organizations all benefit from having smart, hard-working and dedicated professionals watching out for our cybersecurity, that\u2019s not a match for the machine-centric approach cyber thieves are taking.\n\nWe have to use machines to do more real-time work, such as event analysis and remediation or studying anomalous network and user behavior. In essence, we must use machines to fight the other guys\u2019 machines, or we risk falling into a very bad position\u2014playing catch-up when every second counts. The more manual your approach is to cybersecurity, the more at risk you are. This is an important precept of Zero Trust, as well: automate as much as possible to limit the impact if and when a breach occurs.\n\nI don\u2019t want to kid anyone. Zero Trust, alone, won\u2019t prevent financial services organizations from being breached. You do need to invest not only in powerful technology tools, subscription services, and human expertise, but also in smart processes. Adopting a Zero Trust mindset, and the discipline and hygiene that go along with it, will better protect your organization by dramatically reducing the blast surface.\n\nTo learn more, visit us here.