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How DLP Helps Financial Institutions Protect Their Data

In the financial sector, data is not just a resource from which companies extract useful business insights. Financial institutions create, gather, process, and store large volumes of sensitive information. This sensitive information, which includes personally identifiable information and intellectual property, is at risk of loss from human error and theft. The consequences of data loss range from severe regulatory penalties to operational disruption to reputational damage.

In today’s complex IT environments, USBs, email, webmail, and cloud systems are all potential exit points for data to intentionally or unintentionally leave financial organizations’ networks. This article explains the critical role that data loss prevention solutions play in helping financial institutions protect their data.

Defending against external threats

The finance industry faces a unique cyber risk profile due to the large volumes of sensitive information that financial providers and institutions collect and generate, including:

  • Personally identifiable information (PII), such as Social Security numbers, account numbers, and credit card numbers stored in their corporate networks.
  • Intellectual property creations that give financial institutions a competitive edge (e.g., financial models, software, machine learning algorithms, and trade secrets).

Cybercriminals constantly probe for weaknesses in defenses that can enable them to achieve their malicious goals. Data exfiltration focused on confidential data is often the primary aim of external attacks carried out on financial institutions by hackers. After all, obtaining sensitive information can command a high fee in dark web marketplaces. Or, hackers can steal data and demand ransoms from financial institutions that may be more likely to pay up to avoid the particularly severe consequences of data loss in this industry.

Security teams in the financial services sector face relentless challenges in defending systems and financial data against a slew of external threats, including web application attacks, malware, and phishing emails. When an external threat actor bypasses initial defenses and gets inside a financial company’s network, Data Loss Prevention (DLP) acts as a last layer of defense to block file transfers and prevent valuable data from being stolen. Many high-profile data breaches in the financial sector that garnered negative media publicity in recent years could’ve been prevented with an effective DLP tool in place.

Preserving data privacy

Finance is one of the most heavily regulated sectors when it comes to privacy and personal data protection. Due to the highly sensitive nature of the customer data that financial institutions collect and process, laws like the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) and the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA) were enforced in the US as far back as the late 1990s and early 2000s. Standards such as the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) were adopted worldwide to protect cardholder data.

In the EU, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) also applies to financial information as it can be used to identify individuals. There are even some circumstances

With strict regulatory requirements and severe penalties for non-compliance, many financial institutions already have complex cybersecurity frameworks in place. These include strict security policies, the use of security solutions like antivirus software and firewalls, access to data on a need-to-know basis, and security measures that protect sensitive data.

In this last category, Data Loss Prevention (DLP) solutions, focusing directly on sensitive data rather than company networks or work devices, have emerged as essential tools in the data protection arsenal. Leading DLP solutions come with predefined compliance profiles that preserve data privacy in line with different regulations while also providing the option to create custom profiles based on specific types of data.

Protecting sensitive information from internal threats

When it comes to data breaches, it’s instinctive to first think about headline-grabbing cyberattacks perpetrated by malicious outsiders using skilled hacking techniques. However, according to the 2022 Data Breach Instigations Report released by Verizon, simple human error accounts for 82 percent of data breaches. Employees, contractors, and business associates can also instigate malicious attacks from within (insider threats).

And while effective cybersecurity training teaches employees how to use systems safely and recognize threats, a moment of neglect or malice is all that’s standing between a financial institution and a serious data breach. Internal threats are particularly salient in a world where cloud storage systems open up a broad attack surface for misconfiguration and deliberate actions that result in data leakage.

The problem with internal threats is that companies cannot limit employee access to sensitive data when it is needed to perform their daily tasks. The solution offered through DLP is to focus not on the user or device but on the sensitive data itself.

Through predefined policies for financial and personal information, along with the possibility to customize them to fit a company’s particular niche, DLP solutions allow financial institutions to monitor and control sensitive data. They can limit or block its transfer outside of the company network but also search for it through data stored locally on work computers.

In this way, organizations can prevent employees from transferring data through unsecure third-party services such as messaging apps, social media, file-sharing services, or virtual storage spaces. These predefined policies can also be configured in DLP to prevent employees from archiving data on their hard drives. The most advanced modern DLP tools can work alongside data classification systems to extract classification metadata and further bolster defenses against data leaks.

Knowing where data is and how it is being used

Data transparency is an important part of any comprehensive information security strategy. Financial Institutions must know how data is collected, processed, and used by employees while performing their duties. By gaining knowledge of their data flow, financial institutions can identify vulnerabilities in their policies and potential threats to data security.

DLP solutions help companies monitor sensitive data throughout their entire network, flagging any attempts to violate data protection policies and producing reports to support future decision-making. Extensive monitoring of sensitive data means not only that financial institutions can build more efficient data protection strategies focusing on identified risks, but they can also discover potential malicious insiders attempting to steal data or employees that might require additional data security training.

Through monitoring, financial institutions can also discover the most frequently attempted policy violations and search for their root causes. They can then address them through training or the adoption of authorized tools that employees might need to perform their tasks.

Protecting data on the move

A weakness inherent in many traditional cybersecurity strategies is when organizations only secure sensitive data and employee computers while the devices and the data are safe in the office or connected to the company network. When employees take laptops home or travel with them for business reasons, the critical data on these devices becomes vulnerable. This is especially relevant in a world where financial institutions are on board with the idea of having hybrid workforces, with employees having the option to work from home or at the office.

DLP solutions, when applied on the endpoint, can ensure continued protection for sensitive data, no matter where a device is located or what operating system it runs (Microsoft Windows, macOS, etc.). Whether at home or in the office, connected to the company network, a personal WiFi connection, or not connected to the internet at all, DLP data protection policies will continue to be applied, ensuring uninterrupted protection.

Supporting auditing efforts

DLP monitoring and logging features enable companies to keep detailed records of all sensitive data transfers. This is particularly useful for compliance reasons, as most data protection laws require organizations to prove that they have taken adequate measures to protect data from leaks or theft. DLP solutions can thus support auditing efforts for compliance through generated logs and reports.

Endpoint Protector is a leading DLP solution that monitors data stored in endpoint devices, blocks egress, and protects financial institutions against data exfiltration, leaks, and accidental loss. Enforced encryption, Device Control, eDiscovery, and Content-Aware Protection are the key features that work together to provide more data protection with fewer headaches. Seamlessly deploy Endpoint Protector as a virtual appliance, in the cloud, or as a SaaS solution, depending on what best fits your workflows.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How to securely protect financial data?
Securely protecting financial data requires a multi-layered approach that combines proper access controls, encryption, and security tools such as data loss prevention (DLP) for preventing transfers or exfiltration.
What are the four most common compliance risks?
The four most common compliance risks are 1) data privacy breaches, 2) illegal practices such as fraud, 3) human error, and 4) a lack of disaster readiness.
What are the main privacy compliance regulations for financial institutions?
The main data privacy compliance regulations for financial institutions are The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA), The Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX), Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), and The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

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