Why Financial Institutions Need Privileged Access Management

Financial institutions are top targets for cybercriminals. In a recent report, Accenture and the Ponemon Institute claim that the cost of cyberattacks is higher in financial services than any other industry – with costs reaching $18.3 million annually per company.

As cybersecurity threats evolve, financial institutions are faced with multiple avenues for extortion, theft, and fraud. They can even be the targets of malicious actors at the nation-state level. In April 2020, the U.S. Secret Service and FBI declared that North Korea had used cyberattacks to steal around $2 billion over the past decade.

Data breaches threaten banks with severe financial, reputational, and customer loyalty losses. It’s never been more important for financial institutions to protect themselves with strong access security in the form of privileged access management (PAM).

Why do hackers target banks?

The obvious answer is because that’s where the money is. A nightmare scenario for many customers would be a hacker gaining unauthorized access to their bank account and draining their funds within minutes.

However, banks are rich in something else besides money – private data. Financial institutions process and store large amounts of highly sensitive and valuable PII (personally identifiable information).

PII commands a high price on the dark web. If stolen and sold, victims can face years of problems and stress. Organizations will also face legal liability, reputational damage, and regulatory penalties for failing to keep such important and confidential information safe. When it comes to dealing with people’s mortgages, retirement savings, and loans, there need to be high levels of trust between banks and customers. These kinds of breaches can become front-page news and greatly damage that trust.

In the digital age, banks have larger attack surfaces than ever. Many organizations have cut back on brick-and-mortar branches, while some newer challenger banks operate 100% digitally. There are now so many ways for customers to access their services. The explosion of digital avenues into financial institutions makes them easier targets for such cyberattacks as:

  • Ransomware attacks where organizations have to pay to get their data back
  • Automated bot attacks that steal customer data
  • Phishing attacks that use social engineering to trick people into sharing confidential information

What makes banks hard to protect?

Financial institutions exist in a complex and strict regulatory environment. Penalties and fines are severe in order to protect consumers and businesses – making the potential damage of a breach that much higher. Banks also have complicated infrastructures. Many have been caught between their old legacy infrastructure and trying to keep up with rapid digital transformation. Within a single organization, there could be hundreds of applications used by thousands of employees across numerous locations.

Banks are also tasked with looking outward as well as inward when considering IT security. Financial transactions usually require more than one entity and therefore more than one IT system. To make this simpler, many organizations rely on external service providers who use privileged accounts to do their work. Although sometimes necessary, these accounts represent a huge potential vulnerability. And the larger and more complex an organization is, the more privileged accounts they’ll have.

Privileged accounts can access valuable financial data and execute applications or transactions. It’s near impossible to work without privileged accounts, so it’s vital that organizations find a way to keep them under control and make them secure. Otherwise, they risk a hacker getting hold of root privileges and making far-reaching changes, with potentially serious ramifications.

How PAM can help

A PAM system such as WALLIX’s Bastion secures privileged accounts and allows financial organizations to proactively protect themselves. Controlling privileged access limits the moves a hacker can make after they’ve established a foothold within a network. This greatly reduces their ability to move laterally within the network and access sensitive systems. With the threat landscape constantly changing, it’s critical that financial organizations have an easy-to-use and flexible solution that can adapt to changes in the environment.

PAM solutions such as WALLIX’s Bastion combine a deep feature set with ease of use, a lightweight architecture, and fast deployment. Bastion has advanced access, session, and password managers. These all work together to ensure that financial organizations are protected from both internal and external attacks, while also easily meeting compliance regulations. This capability gives a financial organization the ability to manage and monitor privileged users from the inside as well as those who need privileged access from external firms.

The bastion offers comprehensive monitoring, recording, and isolation of all privileged user sessions. This helps with regulatory compliance by giving financial organizations documented, auditable proof of their efforts to protect privileged access. With the right privileged access security steps in place, a hacker’s capacity to escalate privileges and access confidential information such as customer PII will be greatly mitigated.


When the behavior of privileged users is monitored and managed by a PAM system, financial organizations’ data becomes more secure. PAM helps banks to stay compliant and safe through:

  • Having a password vault and eliminating shared account access
  • Establishing a ‘zero trust’ policy when it comes to privileged access
  • Monitoring and recording privileged sessions for audit purposes

PAM should be a key priority for financial institutions that want to protect both themselves and their customers by staying secure and compliant. For more information regarding PAM and the financial services sector, download our whitepaper today.