The Increase in Cyber Vulnerabilities for Credit Unions

The past decade has brought a rapid digital transformation in the banking sector, with credit unions embracing technology to enhance their services. While these upgrades have undoubtedly improved the customer experience, it has also exposed credit unions to a myriad of cyber threats. While credit unions were once considered safe havens for financial transactions, many reported cyber-attacks in 2023. Why are credit unions finding more cyber vulnerabilities in their networks?


Phishing Attacks and Social Engineering


Phishing attacks are one of the most common tools in a cyber criminal’s arsenal. These attacks have become more sophisticated, with cyber criminals employing social engineering tactics to trick credit union employees and members into divulging sensitive information. Preventative technologies like spam and malware filtering are important, but no solution is 100%. Sooner or later an attacker will succeed in getting an email through to an employee, making education and awareness programs crucial to preparing employees to identify and report these deceptive practices.


Ransomware Threats


Once a cybercriminal has access to a credit union’s sensitive data, they can use this information to encrypt the data and demand a ransom for its release. The financial implications of falling victim to ransomware can be crippling, making it essential that credit unions invest in advanced cybersecurity solutions. In recent years, ransomware gangs have added secondary and tertiary extortion techniques like stealing sensitive private data and threating release if not paid, or going after employees or members whose information was compromised directly.


Third-Party Risks and Regulatory Compliance Challenges


Many credit unions rely on third-party vendors for various services. However, using outside vendors can introduce additional cybersecurity risks. Credit unions must vet their vendors thoroughly and ensure that they adhere to robust security standards. As more and more organizations are falling victim to cyberattacks, regulatory bodies are tightening their grip on the financial sector by introducing increasingly stringent cybersecurity requirements. Credit unions must navigate a complex landscape of compliance requirements to protect both their network and their customers.



Continuous Monitoring and Incident Response


Cybersecurity is not a one-time investment. It is an ongoing process that must be addressed continuously as new vulnerabilities are discovered and attacks evolve. Cybercriminals operate at all hours of the day and credit unions need to implement continuous monitoring and robust incident response plans to detect and mitigate threats in real-time. It often takes attackers only a few hours to go from initial access by phishing a target to gaining complete control of all systems and data in an organization. Without 24/7 coverage, an attack often has free reign to operate with impunity in an institution and inflict maximum damage. Further if you do not have an incident response plan in place, it is crucial to not only create one but to plan tabletop exercises to practice responding to an incident.  In emergency situations, mistakes can be made that can either make the problem worse or destroy potential evidence that can help incident responders identify root cause analysis and what information may have been exposed.  Proactively planning and testing response plans helps make incident responses more effective and efficient.  



Moving Forward


Credit unions must take a comprehensive and adaptive approach to cybersecurity. While marketing from many cybersecurity product vendors may lead one to believe that their solutions are a “silver bullet” for protection, the reality is that no product on its own is sufficient to stay safe against modern threat actors. Defending an organization requires a true culture of cybersecurity from the highest levels of leadership down to each individual employee. It requires commitment from strategy to implementation including prevention with proactive cybersecurity awareness training and technical controls like system and network hardening, continuous attack detection and response capabilities, and ongoing program validation with vulnerability scanning and penetration testing. By staying vigilant, investing in a holistic cultural approach rather than any one technology, and prioritizing customer data protection, credit unions can navigate the digital landscape securely and uphold the trust of their members in an increasingly interconnected world. 


About Author:

Chris Clements, CISSP, CCSA, CCSE, CCSE+, CCSI, CCNA, CCNP, MCSE, Network+, A+, began working in the information security field in 2001, and has a wide range of experience with information security technologies across multiple sectors. Clements is the Vice President of Solutions Architecture at CISO Global.

Clements has worked to secure hundreds of customers across North America, from Fortune 500 companies to small businesses. He has developed in-depth security auditing and penetration testing product and service offerings and engaging end-user security awareness programs and is ideating on what the next generation of cybersecurity will look with AI.  Chris also enjoys teaching and has lead courses on information security for hundreds of students. With his unique skill set and background in both technical operations and business management, Chris has strengths in business management, sales, and product and service delivery.

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