Kaspersky’s Cybersecurity Weekend 2021 Highlights the Good and the Bad of FinTech

Finance Technology, or simply FinTech, is one of the pillars of the digital economy, and it has largely been a boon for financial institutions and the economy as a whole. But there is also a bane for this boon, and that is one of the topics discussed in great detail at the seventh annual Kaspersky Cybersecurity Weekend 2021 titled “Digital Payments: A Leap to a Cashless Society,” along with the benefits of technology in the financial sector, of course.

The Rise of Digital Payments

Chris Connell, Managing Director for Asia Pacific at Kaspersky, kicked things off with a keynote about the continuing rise of electronic payment, which Connell says has been accelerated by the pandemic, to the point that by 2022 or 2023, it will exceed USD $1 trillion in revenue in the Asia Pacific region alone.  

“The surging demand for digital payments has transformed the way we transact both online and offline. Businesses are now digitalising their operations to capture additional revenue through digital payments, while consumers are heavily reliant on it due to the ease and convenience it offers,” noted Connell. “It is clear that the demand for quick, efficient and low-cost payment experiences will encourage further innovation in this space, and we are seeing that happening with the emergence of real-time payment rails.”

Critically, Kaspersky research, according to Connell, has found that 36% of respondents surveyed in the region consider digital payment as a necessity rather than a mere option, underpinning its vital role to society moving forward.  That being said, the same study identified pain points that can potentially derail the rise of paying digitally, with some respondents finding the technologies involved in the system cumbersome and even difficult to use.

Perhaps more tellingly, many are afraid of possibly losing money and personal information, which underscores the need to be BEST for both the organisations using digital payment modalities and consumers leveraging it. Being the BEST in this case means:

  • Be vigilant online.

  • Employ basic security habits, like multi-factor authentication and virtual private networks.

  • Secure devices and accounts.

  • Think before you share, post and click.

Financial Institutions Under (Cyber)Siege

That there is genuine concern about potentially losing money and personal data in digital payments should not come as a shock anymore because the entire financial sector is under constant threat of cyber attack—the platforms for digital payments included. This is none more evident than in the number of cyber attacks banking institutions in the Asia Pacific region have faced over the years.

In particular, the number of banking Trojan incidents in the region has increased considerably over the past five years according to research done by Vitaly Kamluk, Director of Global Research & Analysis Team (GReAT) for APAC at Kaspersky and one of the company’s premier researchers. Perhaps not coincidentally, this rise in Trojan attacks mirrors the rise of cashless payments, with the former becoming more and more commonplace just as the latter continued to be adopted at a much larger scale in the Asia Pacific.

“Even before COVID-19, Asia Pacific has always been one of the leaders in digital payment adoption, driven by developed countries like China, Japan, South Korea and even India. This pandemic extended the use of this technology significantly further, particularly in still emerging economies in Southeast Asia and South Asia,” said Kamluk. “As we all know, the lockdown restrictions forced everyone to shift their financial transactions online. But, now, after analysing the historical figures we have on financial threats, I also learned that there was another outbreak that started in early 2019 in APAC: Banking Trojans.”

Banking Trojans, of course, are among the most dangerous malware around, enabling cybercriminals to illegally access credentials or passwords so they can, in turn, steal money from people’s bank accounts. Coupled with the rise of online payment, banking Trojans have become even more dangerous—and prevalent—now, as Kamluk’s research has discovered.

“Banking Trojans were not the biggest concern of many countries in APAC until 2019 when an outbreak of infections appeared in multiple countries at once. From then on there was no looking back,” said Kamluk. “Our telemetry shows that this malicious threat has grown in terms of detections and reach. We see that it will continue to pose a significant threat to both financial organisations and individuals here as we continue to see more users and startups dipping their feet into the digital payments field.”

The hardest hit by a considerable margin has been the Philippines, where Kaspersky detected the most number of unique users attacked. In fact, 22.26% of all banking Trojans discovered by Kaspersky in the region were recorded in the Philippines, while 12.91% were registered in Bangladesh, 7.16% in Cambodia, 7.04% in Vietnam and 7.02% in Afghanistan.

Security Tips from the Cybersecurity Experts

Kamluk capped his presentation by providing these tips for financial organisations:

  • Defend the perimeter with a reliable vendor, like Kaspersky.

  • Run cybersecurity drills.

  • Verify your supply chain software.

  • Monitor the latest trends and attacks.

  • Motivate staff to report suspicious findings and contacts.

He also reminded individual consumers to do the following:

  • Update software regularly.

  • Pay attention to security software alerts.

  • Be more suspicious in communication.

  • Use complex passwords and 2FA.

  • Use hardware digital wallets and diligently follow its security protocols.

  • Install a reliable security solution for your devices, including mobile phones.

The world is going digital, and this transformation is impacting every aspect of life, including how people approach commerce and handle money. This shift has been mostly for the good of societies worldwide but it has drawbacks just the same. But, if everyone involved exercises vigilance and lives the advice shared by both Kamluk and Connell (to be BEST), it is very possible that the pros of technology will far outweigh the cons.

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