The AI-powered cybersecurity wave threatening the financial services industry

The AI-powered cybersecurity wave threatening the financial services industry

By Morgan Wright (pictured), Chief Security Advisor at SentinelOne


The financial services industry, long accustomed to navigating an ever-shifting landscape of technological advancements, now faces a two-pronged challenge: the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the persistent threat of insider attacks.

While buzzwords come and go within the tech sector, AI appears to be a force to be reckoned with. Generative AI, with its ability to fabricate realistic phishing emails, create deepfakes, and manipulate voices, has become a top concern for security professionals in financial institutions. Building trust is paramount in this industry, and AI-powered fraud undermines this cornerstone principle.

However, the core principles of cybersecurity remain constant. Malicious actors continue to exploit vulnerabilities, and the fundamental need for Know Your Customer (KYC) practices remains as relevant today as ever. The tools may change, but the underlying threats persist.

The modern cyber battlefield is far from linear. It’s a complex network of potential entry points and hidden dangers, stretching the already-limited resources of security teams. However, the real challenge lies not just in understanding these complexities, but in anticipating the evolving tactics of adversaries constantly innovating their attacks.

Imagine a scenario where attackers disrupt access to essential financial services. Widespread panic could ensue if individuals were unable to access their bank accounts or withdraw cash. This possibility, once unimaginable, is now well within reach due to advancements in AI.

The threat from within

AI empowers attackers not only to breach systems but also to gain a foothold from within. Malicious actors can leverage AI to personalise attacks, manipulating individuals into compromising their own or the institution’s security. Disinformation campaigns and influence operations pose a new threat landscape, making employee compromise more feasible than ever.

Financial institutions have built robust defences against external threats, however insider threats remain a persistent vulnerability. Disgruntled employees or those sympathetic to certain causes may be swayed to violate their oaths and provide confidential information to unauthorised parties.

Deepfakes, a product of AI, can be weaponised to erode trust and sow discord. Financial institutions must understand these tools to protect both their systems and their reputation. Continuous employee training is essential in this evolving cyber landscape.

Financial firms have historically been at the forefront of cybersecurity investments and innovations. However, traditional approaches alone are insufficient for the future. AI offers a unique opportunity to turn the tables.

By deploying AI for automated responses, institutions can significantly increase the cost and complexity of cyberattacks for adversaries. After all, in cyberspace, a fair fight is not always the most effective strategy.

The human cost of AI-powered attacks

The financial repercussions of a successful cyberattack on a financial institution can be devastating. Lost revenue, damaged reputations, and regulatory fines are just some of the potential consequences. However, the human cost of such attacks can be equally significant.

Businesses that rely on financial services to operate could be crippled by disruptions in cash flow. The broader economic impact could be severe, shaking public confidence in the financial system.

Beyond the immediate financial losses, cyberattacks can also erode trust in financial institutions. When consumers lose faith in the ability of banks and other institutions to protect their data and assets, they are less likely to invest and participate in the financial system. This can have a chilling effect on economic growth.

The need for a multi-pronged approach

There is no single solution to the challenge posed by AI-powered attacks and insider threats. Financial institutions need to adopt a multi-pronged approach that combines technological advancements with robust security practices and a strong emphasis on employee education and awareness.

On the technology front, AI offers a powerful tool for combating cyberthreats. AI-powered security systems can analyse vast amounts of data to identify suspicious activity and potential breaches. By automating threat detection and response, institutions can significantly reduce the time it takes to neutralise an attack.

However, technology alone is not enough. Financial institutions must also invest in employee training programs that educate staff on the latest cyberthreats and best practices for security. Employees need to be aware of the tactics used by social engineers and how to identify phishing attempts and other forms of deception.

Also, institutions need to foster a culture of security awareness within their ranks. This means encouraging employees to report suspicious activity and to be vigilant in protecting sensitive information. By empowering employees to be part of the security solution, institutions can significantly reduce their risk profile.

While AI presents challenges, it also offers immense potential to safeguard financial institutions and the broader financial system. By harnessing the power of AI responsibly, the financial services industry can build a more secure and resilient future for all participants.