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EU: Cybersecurity and cyber resilience in the FinTech sector

The FinTech sector was valued at €140 billion globally in 2018 and is estimated to more than double in size to €431 billion by 2022. In the EU, FinTech investments increased by nearly 300% in 2018 from the previous year, to €37 billion. The FinTech sector's aims of transforming financial services delivery and offering innovative data-rich services makes it highly attractive for venture capital. As the sector expands, the risks of hacking, cybercrime, cybersecurity incidents, and personal data breaches increases. Wayne Cleghorn, CEO of PrivacySolved, discusses FinTech's unique cybersecurity challenges and outlines key standards, tools, and steps that the sector can take to remain proactive and cyber resilient.

Easyturn / Signature collection / istockphoto.com

FinTech's unique cybersecurity landscape

The FinTech sector is a series of related financial technologies. The sector is, by nature, innovative and data-driven, with ever expanding boundaries. The ecosystem includes large traditional banks, financial services providers, challenger banks, and a wide range of start-ups. Key FinTech services include payments, alternative finance, smartphone-based mobile retail banking, currency exchange services, investing services, and cryptocurrencies. The edges of FinTech stretches into 'InsurTech' and the more multifaceted 'RegTech' sector. FinTech's growth, innovative use of data, and user-focus makes it a unique target for cybercrime and cybersecurity threats.

FinTech actively uses new technologies, data analytics, Big Data, artificial intelligence, robotic process automation (RPA), blockchain, and biometrics. The sector is an evolving mix of diverse data points and a large footprint of endpoints and devices. The sector is home to various data sets, including financial transactions, payment card, credit report, geolocation, and special categories of personal and other sensitive data. As a result, it is an increasing target for cybercriminals, cybersecurity incidents, and personal data breaches. Distributed denial-of-service attacks are increasingly common, and ransomware, malware, and phishing attacks are also growing.

A mix of rules and regulations

In the EU, FinTech as a combined sector is not highly regulated. However, depending on the type of FinTech organisation, types of technologies deployed, or the types of data used, various laws and rules will apply data security. Traditional banks, challenger banks, and smartphone-based financial services providers face the most demanding cybersecurity rules. The EU's Payment Services Directive ((EU) 2015/2366) ('PSD2') lead the way for open banking by allowing banks to make their customers' personal or business current-account information accessible to external third-party providers. The PSD2 supercharged the growth of EU FinTech. FinTech's are also governed by a mixture of EU banking authorities, EU financial services laws, central banks, and national financial services regulators. Organisations that are part of critical national infrastructure fall within the Directive on Security Network and Information Systems (Directive (EU) 2016/1148) ('the NIS Directive'). Their supply chains, which can include FinTechs, are indirectly regulated by these cybersecurity standards. FinTechs that use direct marketing tools, cookies, and similar technologies must comply with the Directive on Privacy and Electronic Communications (Directive 2002/58/EC) ('the ePrivacy Directive') and the related national laws in each EU country.

The General Data Protection Regulation (Regulation (EU) 2016/679) ('GDPR') provides overarching rules to encourage cybersecurity and data protection compliance. The GDPR's rules on transparency, accountability, security of data processing, personal data breach notifications to regulators and individuals, Privacy by Design, Privacy by Default, Data Protection Impact Assessments ('DPIAs'), and the appointment of data protection officers, offer FinTechs a baseline for compliance, which they must build on to reflect their specific context and risk-profile.

EU public policy has acknowledged the need to make cybersecurity the number one priority in FinTech planning. The European Commission adopted the EU FinTech Action Plan ('the Action Plan') in 2018 with the clear aim of placing cybersecurity and integrity at the heart of FinTech growth and development. The Action Plan encourages a security by design approach. The European Banking Authority also published a FinTech Roadmap to set out its priorities for 2018/2019. The European Union Agency for Cybersecurity ('ENISA'), is, at the time of publication, working on an EU certification framework for ICT security products and services, increasing access to threat intelligence and information sharing, encouraging penetration and resilience testing, as well as increasing cybersecurity training and awareness. In 2019, the European Supervisory Authorities published advice to the European Commission on the strengthening of EU cyber and IT security regulation in the financial sector. A key recommendation was to develop an EU oversight framework for third party providers active in financial services, especially cloud service providers. Another recommendation was to develop an EU-wide framework for testing the cyber resilience of important financial institutions. Globally, at an intergovernmental level, the G7, the G20, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank are also working on FinTech cybersecurity and information security for financial services.

FinTech cybersecurity and cyber resilience standards and tools

  • Security by design (and security engineering) should underpin FinTech infrastructure, services, software, and applications, so that security is built-in by default, allowing a secure environment at the core and the endpoints.
  • International Information Security Standards, such as ISO 27001, allow FinTechs to create and manage high quality information systems. However, newer standards, such as ISO 27032:2012 for improving the state of cybersecurity and ISO 27701:2019 for extending privacy information management system standards, can be used to mature the level of compliance. FinTechs should also seek to apply the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard, if applicable, the National Institute on Information Standards and Technology ('NIST') Cybersecurity Framework, financial services IT standards, and other sectors norms in the countries in which the FinTech operates.
  • A zero-trust approach and continuous testing allow FinTechs to significantly fortify their networks, endpoints, and level of resilience. Zero-trust architecture and zero-trust networks are based on the principle that actors, systems, or services operating from within the security perimeter should not be automatically trusted, but must be verified to initiate access and continue access to IT services.
  • DPIAs allow FinTechs to better understand their personal data use and demonstrate GDPR compliance. DPIAs focus on high-risk data processing and enable risk identification, remediation, risk acceptance, risk reduction, and risk management. At the system design stage, DPIAs can help FinTechs to identify and adopt Privacy by Design.
  • Supply chain cybersecurity compliance, strength, and resilience are vital for business continuity and disaster recovery. FinTechs should build-in IT flexibility and backup options, especially for cloud services. Supply chain partners must be held to high standards of cybersecurity compliance. They should also display cybersecurity agility and responsiveness to react to threats, risks, near-misses, and breaches.

Proactive cyber resilience

The language of cybersecurity can often appear binary and prosaic to developers, FinTech founders, senior leaders, and boards. Cybersecurity is often presented as a problem to be fixed to allow growth and profits to take place uninterrupted. In truth, cybersecurity is fluid, it is an enabler, and an adept partner to FinTech's most ingenious innovations. In today's complex global supply chains, with its aggressive and evolving threat landscape, cybersecurity must be aligned with proactive cyber resilience.

NIST defines cyber resilience as 'the ability to prepare for and adapt to changing conditions and withstand and recover rapidly from disruptions. Resilience includes the ability to withstand and recover from deliberate attacks, accidents, or naturally occurring threats or incidents.' Proactive cyber resilience is a more suitable and beneficial aim, allowing organisations to promote a broader application of cybersecurity to include disaster recovery, business continuity, intelligent cyber insurance, and supply chain strength and flexibility. FinTech's dynamism, complexity, and expanding boundaries require security engineering and cybersecurity to be core competences within the sector's ecosystem and where the watchword is always resilience.

Wayne Cleghorn CEO
[email protected]
PrivacySolved, London