Network Transformation in Finance for a Hybrid Working Age

By Luke Armstrong
It is imperative for financial technology companies to improve their security infrastructure in a world with increasing cybercrime

Before the pandemic, the financial sector was well known for its slow technology adoption, mainly due to legacy concerns over data security online and in the cloud. But the pandemic and its accelerant effect on remote and flexible working have forced this to change, with remote access to data now pivotal to day-to-day operations. In addition, the recent announcement of new laws set to be introduced to protect flexible working and further laws to offset the limited use of cloud providers means the discussion around network security has never been so crucial, especially for the financial services sector. Together this has given way to a renewed focus on network transformation. 

Digital transformation has spurred a growing demand of ‘next-gen networks’, which are more often than not built on the cloud. Digitally transforming the network infrastructure is therefore crucial to maintaining critical business growth. As this long-overdue innovation in the Financial Services (FS) sector has begun to accelerate, conversations about regulation and legislation have come to the fore. A welcome development for such a high-priced and data-sensitive industry.

Turning to network security

The introduction of new laws that will protect employees’ rights to request flexible working from their first day in a new a job, is imminent. This will mean the FS sector, which relies heavily on third-party cloud services to deliver applications and infrastructure to remote workers, is turning its attention firmly to network security. This focus has been further intensified by recent comments from the Bank of England, which expressed its concern that the sector’s dependence on a small collection of third-party cloud services elevates risk and reduces resilience. 

When combined with the growing demand for cloud-based ‘next-gen networks’, that help deliver all manner of information and digital services over one central network, the case for network transformation is now clear. Digitally transforming the network infrastructure to become more open, seamless and optimised is now considered crucial to maintaining critical business growth. 

However, the rapid decentralisation of workforces has created a perfect environment for bad actors, leading many businesses to quickly scale up their security investments to secure their corporate networks. The challenge now lies in adapting their security policies to cater to a future of distributed working.

Security and reliability: the key to keeping hackers at bay

Thanks to the efforts of attackers, who have continued to innovate and deliver attacks via a variety of means, the threat landscape for FS firms has continued to evolve at breakneck speed. In recent times, we’ve seen a spike in mobile malware and botnet attacks, as well as more sophisticated versions of traditional attack routes, such as phishing, ransomware and insider threats.

According to figures from BAE Systems, this helps explain why almost three quarters (74%) of financial institutions saw an increase in malicious activity in the first year of the COVID crisis. The same study also revealed that 86% believed the mass move to remote working made their organisations less secure.

Suppose financial firms are to succeed in this hyper-competitive digital age, but more importantly, to stay compliant with new regulations about to be enforced. In that case, they must invest in a security framework that delivers security and reliability while keeping attackers at bay. These ingredients are critical not just for securing data and systems but also because they guarantee the highest possible availability of services and systems to customers, which helps build their trust in a brand and increase their loyalty. 

Heads in the cloud with a simplified infrastructure

The cloud is fast becoming the most critical technology tool to keep secure, as traditional firms migrate data and applications en masse to private and public cloud environments to better compete with today’s digitally-native fintech challengers. It’s a trend that will only continue, too, with banking regulators and advisory firms encouraging banks to make more extensive use of cloud services. But with upcoming regulations coming into force, the FS sector will need to ensure it respects the rules and makes secure networks its number one priority. 

Secure access service edge, or SASE, is an additional security layer that many financial services businesses should consider for their cloud infrastructure. SASE brings together security and networking, delivered via a cloud-based service model. It’s vital because it provides secure access to apps and data, as remote users increasingly require access to cloud-based, business-critical applications from anywhere in the world, usually via a SaaS model.

While the technology is not necessarily new, it is becoming more widely used, especially in the remote working age. It combines high-performance connectivity with a robust, centralised cyber security posture, providing control and visibility of the entire cloud infrastructure.

SASE for peace of mind in a hybrid age

SASE is so powerful because it incorporates the key features of multiple security services via software-defined wide-area networking (SD-WAN), including DNS security and firewall policies. It integrates all of this with Zero Trust network security principles to create a single service that is delivered across every aspect of an organisation’s cloud infrastructure.

This frees IT teams from having to manage multiple solutions across several regions while guaranteeing effective protection from malware, phishing, data loss and malicious insiders, with complete control over how applications are accessed and used on a day-to-day basis. This means that SASE not only economises security but also enhances threat detection and data protection capabilities. These are vital aspects for financial institutions looking to secure their networks in a consolidated, simplified manner. Organisations can also benefit from dedicating more of their IT resources to making more effective and efficient use of their data and introducing IT policies that underpin distributed working.

A security infrastructure prime for regulators and customers

For FS organisations, delivering a fast, reliable and secure digital service only to customers isn’t enough. With hybrid working now firmly established and staff on the move, a new connectivity and network security approach is vital.

Implementing security infrastructure that is fit for purpose will mean both customers and employees can access the full range of apps and services available, no matter their location – so both can realise their goal of making banking an end-to-end, digitally native experience. It will also keep financial institutions safe from cybercriminals and away from the stern eye of the regulators.

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About the author: Luke Armstrong, Enterprise Consultant at Exponential-e, explores how the sector can implement a secure infrastructure.

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