[BreachExchange] Cyber-resilience - a repeated regulatory message
audrey at riskbasedsecurity.com
Thu May 11 20:13:00 EDT 2017
An expectation that regulated financial services firms be ‘cyber-resilient’
should not cause any surprise. Cyber-crime and data breaches represent
major risks for business generally. Comparatively, that risk is not
mitigated by the standards of British employees, who have been found to be
particularly ineffective at protecting their data and devices.1
Accordingly, cyber-crime has the potential to be profoundly destabilizing,
as well as costly, to the UK financial services sector.
However, the framework against which the expectation of cyber-resilience
translates into tangible and measurable obligations is not substantially
developed. Two recent FCA public announcements provide some insight into
the Regulator’s approach to cyber security, and indicate the direction and
shape of regulatory change. The FCA released its Business Plan for
2017/2018 on 18 April.2 The document sets out the FCA’s priorities.
‘Technological change and resilience’ is one of six cross-sector priorities
listed. The following week, on 24 April, the FCA’s acting COO (Nausicaa
Delfas) delivered a speech at the Financial Information Security Network,
titled “Expect the Unexpected - cyber security - 2017 and beyond”.3 Ms.
Delfas reviewed the landscape of cybercrime risk, before proposing ways of
Unsurprisingly cyber security is a growing priority for the FCA, and is
therefore likely to be within the cross-hairs of its Enforcement Division.
Accordingly, although these public statements do not represent rules or
formal guidance, firms should ensure that the principles espoused are
carefully considered and, where applicable, properly implemented. Below we
have distilled five key messages from the announcements.
1) Prevent, detect, recover, respond
Although historically the focus has been on prevention, the FCA has
emphasised that firms must address their capacity to detect, recover and
respond to any attack. Firms should have adequate and appropriate systems
which allow them to continue functioning in the event of an unforeseen
interruption. One key feature of a firm’s capacity to recover effectively
concerns its back-up strategy, the importance of which is underlined by the
risk posed by Ransomware. Ms. Delfas stated that the FCA expect firms to
maintain online and offline backups”.4
Moreover, the Regulator expects firms to ensure that both consumers and
markets are, where appropriate, informed about material breaches in timely
fashion. An appropriate response is likely to be delayed where firms have
not formulated and implemented, ahead of time, a clear strategy and chain
The need for firms to defend and respond to cyber-attacks, and do so
quickly and effectively, is repeated in the FCA’s Business Plan.
2) Getting the basics right: the majority of crystalised risk could be
For all the apparent complexity of cyber-crime, several recent studies have
underscored a simple truth: most breaches would be prevented by the
adoption of basic measures. Ms. Delfas referenced a 2016 data breach
investigations report. The report detailed the findings of a wide-ranging
analysis of various data breaches and security incidents, from across
sixty-one countries. The report found that ten vulnerabilities accounted
for 85% of successful breaches. Moreover, the majority of the
vulnerabilities exploited during attacks were well-known and easily fixed.
The FCA clearly believes that the report’s findings are reflective of the
risks posed by UK financial services firms. On that basis Ms. Delfas
stressed the importance for firms to get the basics right. She cited the
statistic that, properly implemented, the ten steps to cyber security,
published by the National Cyber Security Centre,5 would eliminate 80% of
the cyber threats which firms are struggling to manage. Furthermore, she
urges firms to carry out robust comprehensive risk assessments focused on
the impact of a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks on their
3) Third party oversight
One recurring theme in the FCA’s Business Plan, reflective of regulatory
practice more generally, concerns the duty on firms to monitor and oversee
the risks faced by third party service providers. By outsourcing its IT
systems or processes a firm does not necessarily escape regulatory
responsibility for any resulting failures attributed to cyber-attacks. This
point was stressed by Ms. Delfas in a previous speech made in September
last year.6 Firms are expected to perform appropriate and adequate
oversight of third party service providers. Similarly, the Business Plan
identifies issues associated with oversight and control of increasingly
complex chains of third party relationships in the context of Fintech
companies. Firms should be conscious that Fintech companies may not
properly understand the scope of regulation or its impact on their business
4) Fostering a “secure” culture
The promotion and embedment of good regulatory culture in firms has been an
FCA focal area for some time. It will come as little surprise that Ms.
Delfas’ speech echoed that expectation in the context of cyber-security.
The mere production and distribution of a cyber-security policy may not
meet the standards expected by the Regulator. Firms must make continual
efforts to promote and strengthen good behavior amongst its staff. Ms.
Delfas encouraged firms to take staff “on a journey”. She elaborated on
this concept in slightly less ambiguous terms, suggesting that firms
circulate fake phishing emails. Depending on their response staff should be
educated or rewarded accordingly. A good example of this practice comes
from the US Federal Government. Its Department of Home Security is reported
to have emailed its employees, offering free tickets to an NFL match.
Anyone who clicked on the attached link was subject to a mandatory
An obligation to foster good “culture” does however present regulatory
challenges. In her speech Ms. Delfas alluded to the problem posed in
measuring a firm’s culture, which she concedes is a “qualitative and
intangible concept”. However, she articulated a mechanism for calibrating
the culture of a firm:
“by aggregating the outcomes of ethical phishing exercises, red team tests,
senior leadership exercises, staff awareness events and information
security training, we can begin to gather baseline metrics against which to
track improvement. By tracking improvement, we can begin to make tangible
steps to improve our cultural attitude towards security and start to tackle
the more difficult challenges emanating from within our organisations.”
A failure to demonstrate marked improvements in these baseline metrics—or
simply an abject failure to meet acceptable standards—could result in an
enforcement action against the firm.
Non-executive directors also have a responsibility to promote a coherent
and effective cyber culture. Ms. Delfas suggested that NEDs, should satisfy
themselves that their companies are managing cyber risk effectively.
5) Information sharing
The FCA has seen a sharp increase in the number of cyber-attacks reported
to the FCA: from 5 in 2014, increasing to 89 last year. Ms. Delfas rightly
queries whether this surge can be attributed to greater detection and
reporting, rather than an increase in the prevalence of attacks.
Notwithstanding this trend, outside of financial institutions which are
considered of critical or systemic importance, the FCA has noticed a lack
of cyber information being shared by firms. Information exchange in
cyber-security will play a major role in the FCA fulfilling it public
functions in the future. In recognition of this, the FCA has established
several Cyber Coordination Groups to better understand how threats differ
across the various sectors of the industry. Through information sharing the
FCA hopes to improve the resilience of the sectors it regulates.
These comments are not merely an expression of encouragement, but should be
read as an articulation of firms’ regulatory obligations. Under Principle
of Business 11 (PRIN 11) firms “must deal with its regulators in an open
and cooperative way, and must disclose …appropriately anything relating to
the firm of which that regulator would reasonably expect notice.” Public
announcements like Ms. Delfas’ speech signal to firms that the FCA expects
to be notified of cyber information, even if it is not of direct
significance to the supervision of the firm itself. During her speech in
September Ms. Delfas commented, “I cannot emphasise enough how important
information sharing is to identifying and tackling patterns of attack”.
Firms should assume therefore that attempted cyber breaches—however
efficiently they were detected or responded to—may trigger a disclosure
Although not formal guidance, public announcements by the FCA, in any form,
signal the standards it expects firms, and their managers, to meet when
implementing cyber security. As such, these announcements typically
foreshadow the Regulator’s enforcement priorities. It may take some time
before the FCA’s expectations are considered adequately developed and
rehearsed to ground any enforcement action. However, good practice and
culture can take a significant time to foster and embed. These
announcements may prompt firms to review their current procedures and test
the standards being applied by their employees.
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