Finance sector ‘wide open’ to cyber-attack boom due to rise in remote working, experts warn

The finance sector is in danger of a surge in cyber-attacks due to a sharp rise in staff using unsecured networks for work, experts have warned.

Employees are increasingly using unsecured public Wi-Fi hotspots while working, leaving businesses “extremely vulnerable” to hackers, they fear.

Leading national business group The Federation of Small Business (FSB) and UK cyber security specialist Linten Technologies said the emergence of remote working and the convenience of public networks made cyber-breaches “incredibly simple” to achieve.

“You are never far from an unsecured network – whether at a hotel, café, train station or airport,” says Robert Downes, FSB development manager for Greater Manchester.

“Combine that with remote working pushing more financial service employees onto unsecured networks, and the concern is businesses across the UK are leaving themselves wide open to cybercrime.

“Many employees just don’t realise just how risky public Wi-Fi access points are, but they are very easily hacked and make using them a no-no. The simple analogy I’ve heard from experts before is that if you found an open bottle of beer on the bar on a night out, you wouldn’t dream of drinking it just because it’s there. The same goes for free Wi-Fi.”

PwC’s Remote Work Survey revealed 61% of CFOs in the financial sector were planning to make remote working “permanent for roles that allow it”, while the number of worldwidepublic Wi-Fi hotspots is expected to reach 628 million in 2023.

The financial services industry is one of the most vulnerable – and targeted – industries for cybercrime through unsecured networks.

In 2018, financial services industry incurred the most cybercrime costs at £16million ($18.3 m).

On average, a financial services employee has access to nearly 11m files the day they walk in the door. For large organisations, employees have access to 20m files.

In 2020, IBM published a report stating that the average cost of a financial services data breach is now £5m ($5.85m).

“The risk to financial services companies is huge,” says Steven Allan, CEO and founder of Manchester-headquartered IT services provider Linten Technologies.

“With 44% of UK adults believing that public Wi-Fi is ‘safe’, the use of unsecured networks is literally giving cybercriminals the keys to the kingdom.

“A staggering 95% of cybersecurity breaches are caused by human error. So, the first thing businesses need to do is educate employees about the dangers of unsecured networks.

“We advise our clients that it is safer to hotspot from your phone using mobile data, than join an unsecured network if you’re out and about.

“Another simple security measure to adopt is multifactor authentication (MFA). This is vital for any good cyber security plan, yet only 46% of SMEs have implemented the technology.

“Use a trusted Virtual Private Network (VPN) service. By using a VPN when you connect to a public Wi-Fi network, you’ll be encrypting all of your data that passes through the network.

“The cost of being proactive and prepared is significantly cheaper than dealing with the aftermath of an attack.”

Data breaches cost SMEs an average of nearly £2.6m ($3m) per incident, according to a recent IBM Data Breach Report.

“Only visit websites with a HTTPS connection as this will ensure that you are browsing on trustworthy and secure website,” Allan added.

“Turn off sharing on your device. This will ensure that the things you usually connect to or share on a secure network aren’t discoverable.

“Ensure you have the relevant security infrastructure in place, such as an antivirus to ensure that you are protected against viruses and malware.”