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Cyber incidents targeting UK financial services providers surged in 2021

A fifth of incidents reported to the Financial Conduct Authority involved ransomware

Cyber security incidents targeting UK financial services providers increased by 52% in 2021, according to reports filed to the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and analysed by Picus Security.

An FOI filed by the cyber security company found that the majority (65%) of the incidents reported to the FCA were cyber attacks, with one in five involving ransomware and almost a third (31.9%) being classed as data breaches.

Picus Security found March 2021 to be the biggest month for cyber security incidents involving financial services providers, with 21 cyber incident reports filed – more than double the 2021 monthly average and triple the number of incidents reported in March 2020.

According to Picus Labs researchers, the significant spike could have been caused by the Hafnium hacking group, which at the time were found to be exploiting the highly-publicised Microsoft Exchange Server vulnerabilities. The FCA, which regulates the activity of more than 50,000 financial services providers, was not immediately available to comment on the increase in cases.

Suleyman Ozarslan, co-founder of Picus Security and VP of Picus Labs, described the significant increase in cyber incident reports as “a concerning trend” that “should serve as an important reminder to all firms about the need to make ongoing improvements in all areas of security”.

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“Financial services firms are amongst the best prepared and most highly capable organisations at detecting and responding to cyber incidents. Yet, despite investing heavily in security and data protection, it’s clear that many continue to experience challenges in these areas,” he said.

The financial sector was one of the many industries which experienced a rapid shift to remote working due to lockdown restrictions, becoming dependent on online communication which has long been a popular target for cyber criminals.

According to Ozarslan, financial services providers “had to contend with being a target of Advanced Persistent Threats and ransomware operators, as well as manage the risks of critical vulnerabilities in widely used systems such as Microsoft Exchange Server”. 

“Only by challenging their defensive capabilities on a continuous basis can firms hope to measure their threat readiness more accurately and swiftly close the gaps needed to take their operational resilience to the next level,” he added.

In 2019, the FCA mistakenly published the personal information of approximately 1,600 people who had filed complaints against it, including names and contact details, on its website.

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