How Credit Unions Protect Against Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs)

Credit Unions are popular with those who value personalized customer service and community-driven values. Plus, often credit unions offer lower rates and friendlier fee-structures. A major bank like Chase has at least 4,500 branches, which is touted as a convenience. To make up for this, credit unions across the United States have formed a CO-OP Shared Branch network that includes more than 30,000 ATMs and over 5,000 shared branches. However, unlike a major international bank, credit unions will have policies and procedures that vary widely from branch to branch. Different regulations mean different rules and policies from credit union to credit union and many credit unions must “go it alone” when it comes to setting policies for everything, including cybersecurity. Not establishing cyber security safety procedures can cause major problems including loss of income, loss of customer confidence, and loss of reputation. 

Upstart Cyber is a cybersecurity firm “for the rest of us.” Created by the same team that provided cyber security for Fortune 1000 companies, our founders formed this company with a mission of serving institutions that may lack in the stature and standing of a major corporation but, who are nonetheless in need of protecting assets and reputation. 

Part of our mission is educational and so we share the lessons of our experience believing that we all benefit from minimizing threats and reducing risks. Our client base includes credit unions and we want to advise and educate on cybersecurity challenges faced by credit unions. One such challenge is “Advanced Persistent Threats,” or APTs, and this article shares information on APTs, what they are and how they work, and then gives practical, tangible, hands-on advice for credit unions to protect their business from APTs. 

How APTs Work

Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs) are a form of cyberattack where unauthorized users gain access to a network and remain undetected, often just waiting, biding their time for months or even years before launching an attack.  The process begins with reconnaissance, where hackers identify vulnerabilities in the credit union’s security system. Following this, they initiate the initial compromise and, like a thief in the night, the cyber criminals breach the network.  Once inside, attackers establish persistence to ensure they can continue to access the network undetected. They escalate privileges to gain higher levels of access, moving deeper into the system. The ultimate goal often involves data theft, where sensitive information is extracted, which can then be sold, hacked, or otherwise exploited. Often the attackers successfully cover their tracks, making the attack undetectable. Millions can be lost, but the “how” forever remains a mystery.

What are the Warning Signs?

Credit unions should be vigilant for signs of an APT attack. One attack vector is the “phishing email,” a type of attack that tricks unsuspecting individuals into revealing information such as passwords, account numbers, or credit card numbers. Often these emails seem to be from legitimate sources, and even the savviest of credit union employees have been tricked into giving access to cyber criminals. Unusual login patterns, such as logins at odd hours or from foreign locations, could indicate compromised accounts. Other warning signs include the presence of backdoor trojans, which is malware that gives attackers access to a computer system. A backdoor trojan typically creates a hidden pathway that allows attackers to enter and manipulate the system remotely. The presence of widespread backdoor trojans suggests that multiple systems have been compromised. Additionally, large volumes of information moved or data clumped together in preparation for export can be a clear indicator of data theft.

Prevention Tips

Preventing APTs requires a multi-layered approach. Traffic monitoring is essential for identifying unusual patterns that could signify an intrusion. At Upstart Cyber, we offer network and endpoint prevention tools to detect and mitigate against these threats. 

Regular penetration testing can uncover vulnerabilities in a system before they can be exploited by attackers. Access control measures ensure that only authorized users can access sensitive information, minimizing the potential damage from compromised accounts.

One service offered by Upstart Cyber is sandboxing, which is a technique to isolate running programs and create a safe environment to run and analyze suspicious software without risking the main network. Lastly, CPU analysis can detect unauthorized use that could indicate the presence of hidden malware or an ongoing attack.

APTs do pose a significant threat to credit unions. The good news is that understanding how these attacks work, recognizing the warning signs, and implementing robust prevention measures can significantly reduce the risk. Stay vigilant and know that by employing advanced security technologies, you can protect your institution, your members, and your reputation. 

About: At Upstart Cyber, we believe elite security should not be reserved just for those without the huge budgets of the big banks. Credit unions and small, local banks deserve security, protection and peace-of-mind. We believe in bringing clients, including credit unions, affordable cybersecurity expertise. Contact us to explore solutions that work for you. 

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