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Canadian banks hire ‘ethical hackers’ to improve and test cybersecurity

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Hackers are targeting Toronto-Dominion Bank’s internal systems at all hours using cutting-edge techniques, but the bank’s head of cybersecurity isn’t losing sleep over them — they work for him, after all.

The bank established late last year an in-house “red team” of ethical hackers — cybersecurity professionals who attempt to hack a computer network to test or evaluate its security on the owners’ behalf — who conduct live attacks against its own networks continuously, said Alex Lovinger, TD Bank’s vice-president of cyber threat management.

“We’re doing it exactly how our adversaries would do it … So if we find a weakness or something like that, we can close it or address it before a real attacker,” he said.

Canada’s biggest banks are fortifying their defences by hiring their own ethical hackers to test their systems as the frequency and sophistication of cybercrime increases.

A Senate report last month entitled “Cyber assault: It should keep you up at night,” sounded the alarm about the potential consequences of major cyberattacks in Canada.

“While some progress has been made federally in the past year, there is much more that the federal government and Canadians must do to protect ourselves,” said the report of the Standing Senate Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce. “We must take the appropriate steps now, or soon we will all be victims.”

Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz has also raised concerns about a cyberattack.

In 2017, 21 per cent of Canadian businesses reported that they were impacted by a cyber security incident which affected their operations, according to Statistics Canada. Banking institutions, not including investment banks, reported the highest level of incidents at 47 per cent, followed by universities and the pipeline transportation sector, according to the agency.

Thousands of Simplii Finanicial customers may have had their personal and financial data compromised by cybercriminals in May. (CBC)

New regulations that require Canadian businesses to alert their customers about privacy breaches or face hefty fines took effect at the beginning of this month.

BMO, Simplii Financial breach

In May, the Bank of Montreal and the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce’s Simplii Financial digital banking brand said thousands of their customers may have had their personal and financial data compromised.

BMO said hackers contacted the bank claiming to be in possession of the personal data of fewer than 50,000 customers, and that the attack originated outside of Canada. At the same time, Simplii also warned that “fraudsters” may have accessed certain personal and account information for about 40,000 clients.

BMO’s chief executive Darryl White said he could not comment on the details of the privacy breach, as an ongoing investigation is underway, but noted there was a “very immaterial impact from a fraud perspective” and no material financial fallout.

“We are a lot smarter as every event goes on. And there are events every day; there are events every hour of every day…. It’s a continual improvement exercise,” White told reporters after the bank’s recent investor day.

Meanwhile, BMO is also turning to in-house ethical hackers to test their systems. According to a recent job posting, BMO is seeking a senior manager with a certification in ethical hacking and whose responsibilities include managing a team of “network penetration testing” specialists.

CIBC did not respond to questions about whether it utilizes ethical hackers.

“We leverage internal and external expertise, and work closely with industry and government to enhance cyber security resilience, threat intelligence and best practices,” a spokeswoman said in a statement.

Alberta-based bank ATB Financial in a recent job post said it was recruiting a “senior penetration tester” with ethical hacking experience. An ATB spokeswoman said the posting is to fill a recently vacated role.

The Bank of Nova Scotia also established its own in-house “red team” of hackers to test its defences, said its chief information security officer Steve Hawkins.

Hackers now sit on a wealth of information … that they can now leverage to do more targeted attacks– Steve Hawkins, Bank of Nova Scotia chief information security officer

“Scotiabank has used and continues to use third-parties to handle this penetration testing. However, because the volume of global cyber threats has significantly risen, the Bank wanted to have its own capabilities in-house and created its own red team this year,” he said.

With the string of data breaches in recent years, what does worry TD’s Lovinger is the cumulative amount of data that has been exposed.

“Hackers now sit on a wealth of information … that they can now leverage to do more targeted attacks,” he said.

Royal Bank of Canada has had in-house ethical hacking capabilities for a few years now, as part of its cybersecurity program, said Adam Evans, the bank’s vice-president of cyber operations and chief information officer.

“We want to make sure that we are testing our defences to make sure they stay relevant,” he said.

RBC has been upping its cybersecurity budget and adding to its team annually. It now has roughly 400 cybersecurity professionals, up 50 per cent from three years ago, but a talent gap looms, Evans said.

Tech labour shortage

Demand for talent in Canada is climbing by seven per cent annually and there will be more than 5,000 roles to fill between 2018 and 2021, according to Deloitte. By 2022, the cybersecurity workforce gap is expected to reach 1.8 million, it said.

As of October, there were 1,024 cybersecurity vacancies for every million Canadian job postings, up five per cent over the past year, according to Indeed Canada. That’s up 73 per cent since the beginning of 2015, said Brendon Bernard, an economist for the job search platform.

Meanwhile, several Canadian banks have made recent investments in research or capabilities abroad or in universities at home to tap cybersecurity talent. For example, TD opened a cybersecurity-focused office in Tel Aviv, Scotiabank announced a partnership with an Israeli cybersecurity company and RBC made an investment in research at Ben-Gurion University.

“With the talent gap in cyber, it’s something that organizations are going to have to address,” said Evans. “Because there is just not enough qualified people out there.”

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7 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers In Calgary

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Buying a house for the first time can be overwhelming to say the least. If you’re wondering what neighbourhood to go with, what you can afford, or even how to just get started on the process, let us take some stress off your hands! We’ve teamed up with Hopewell Residential to give you 7 tips to ensure the home you end up with is everything you dreamed of.

Hopewell Residential is a five-time Developer of the Year award winner, so their expertise is second-to-none in Calgary and beyond. Who better to learn home-buying tips from than the homebuilders themselves?

Create a checklist of needs & wants

This is a biggie. When you’re buying your very first home, you’ll want to weigh your needs vs. your wants. Ensuring you have what you love in your first home is a big, big deal.

What should you do? Easy. Set up a list of needs and a list of wants, but be pretty strict with yourself, and make sure you take your lifestyle into consideration. With the increase in remote work over the past year, it’s important to keep in mind that a home office or flex room might just be the key to maximizing at home happiness. Especially if you’re thinking you might be expanding your family later on, spare rooms and extra space is key (but more on that later!).

Or for instance, you might need a home in an area with a high walkability score, but you want to be close to certain amenities. Set yourself up with the right level of compromise and the number of homes that actually fit your ‘perfect’ idea will skyrocket.

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‘Don’t give up’: Ottawa Valley realtors share statistics, tips for homebuyers in ‘extreme’ sellers market

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The real estate market in the Ottawa Valley can be summed up this way: people from far and wide are in a buying frenzy, but there’s hardly anything to buy at the “store,” and the limited inventory is overpriced.

This “stampede” — as one realtor described it — will affect rural towns as residents grapple with finding affordable housing and agonize over their inability to purchase homes in their price range.

“We are seeing a lack of inventory in all price ranges,” said Laura Keller, a real estate agent from Carleton Place.

Helen Vincent, a Renfrew realtor, said she’s never seen a market like this in her 36 years of practice. “We postpone offers for four to five days in order to get all the buyers,” she said.

Multiple offers — between seven and 10 — became the norm, with cash offers and no conditions, as buyers faced bidding wars. “In Ottawa, they have up to 50 (offers),” she added.

“It’s very stressful. You’re going to get nine (people) ticked off, and one happy. So many people are disappointed,” Vincent said.

Terry Stavenow, an Arnprior realtor for 40 years, said that “the pent-up need took over with inventory going low. It made a stampede on everything that was available.“

“Brand new housing — it’s very much gone. Several building developers are rushing to get inventory. They usually don’t do construction in the winter months,” said Stavenow.

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Real Estate

10 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers

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Buying a home for the first time is exciting and a commitment to the future. It’s often challenging, too, and the process requires a lot of steps, many of which can be tricky to navigate as a first-time home buyer.

What are some things you should keep in mind as a first-time home buyer?

First-Time Home Buyer Tips

Here are 10 tips to keep in mind as you begin your journey toward homeownership.

1. Have Your Finances in Order

It’s wise to begin saving as early as possible once you’ve made the decision to purchase a house. You’ll need to consider the down payment, closing costs (which often range from 2% to 5% of the down payment), as well as move-in expenses.

You also need to understand the other costs of homeownership, such as mortgage insurance. property taxes, utilities, homeowner’s insurance, and more.

2. How Much Can You Afford?

Knowing how much you can realistically afford in a home is another important financial consideration. Look for the home of your dreams that fits your budget.

One way to avoid future financial stress is to set a price range for your home that fits your budget, and then staying within that range. Going through the preapproval process will help you understand what price range is realistic for your budget.

3. Make Sure Your Credit is Good

Another thing to keep in mind as a first-time home buyer is your credit score because it determines whether you qualify for a mortgage and affects the interest rate that lenders offer. 

You can check your credit score from the three credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.

This is another good reason for getting preapproved before you start your search. Learn more about the preapproval process and your credit score.

4. Choose The Right Real Estate Agent

A good real estate agent guides you through the process every step of the way. He or she will help you find a home that fits your needs, help you through the financial processes, and help ease any first-time buyer anxiety you may have.

Interview several agents and request references.

5. Research Mortgage Options

A variety of mortgages are available, including conventional mortgages – which are guaranteed by the government – FHA loans, USDA loans, and VA loans (for veterans).

You’ll also have options regarding the mortgage term. A 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is popular among many homebuyers and has an interest rate that doesn’t change over the course of the loan. A 15-year loan usually has a lower interest rate but monthly payments are larger.

6. Talk to Multiple Lenders

It’s worth your time to talk to several lenders and banks before you accept a mortgage offer. The more you shop around, the better deal you’re liable to get – and it may save you thousands of dollars.

7. Get Preapproved First

Getting a mortgage preapproval (in the form of a letter) before you begin hunting for homes is something else to put on your checklist. A lender’s preapproval letter states exactly how much loan money you can get.

Learn more about the preapproval process and how preapproval provides you with a significant competitive advantage in our article How Preapproval Gives You Home Buying Power.

8. Pick the Right House and Neighborhood

Make sure to weigh the pros and cons of the different types of homes based on your budget, lifestyle, etc. Would a condominium or townhome fit your needs better than a house? What type of neighborhood appeals to you?

9. List Your Needs and Must-Haves

The home you purchase should have as many of the features you prefer as possible. List your needs in order of priority; some things may be non-negotiable to you personally.

10. Hire an Inspector

Hiring an inspector is another crucial step in the home buying process. An inspector will tell you about existing or potential problems with the home, and also what’s in good order. You can learn more about home inspections and how to find a home inspector through the American Society of Home Inspectors website.

Buying a home for the first time is a challenge, but it’s one you can handle with the right planning and preparation.

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