Tech Roundtable: Escalating Ransomware Attacks Drive Greater Interest in Cybersecurity Training

Surge of Interest in Cybersecurity Training For RIAs and IBDs That “Don’t Want to Become the Next Colonial Pipeline”

Michael Madden, Contributing Editor & Research Analyst

Colonial Pipeline, the oil pipeline network, and JBS, the global food supplier, weren’t exactly household names until recently.  

But when they suffered massive operational disruptions, courtesy of highly sophisticated ransomware attacks, the resultant media attention underscored the rising risks of cybercrime.  

Both organizations paid out millions to the cybercriminals.  While some of those funds were recovered by federal law enforcement authorities, there was a significant financial and reputational impact.

These latest events have escalated concern among independent broker-dealers and RIA firms as to their own potential vulnerability to ransomware attacks – And intensified attention on cybersecurity training to minimize future ransomware risks.

Recent Industry Survey from Entreda

A recent broad industry survey shared exclusively with Wealth Solutions Report by Entreda, the cybersecurity solutions provider for independent wealth management firms, revealed the following:

  • 67% of respondents stated that recent high-profile ransomware attacks have made them “very interested” in enhancing their cybersecurity training programs
  • 62% of respondents stated current levels of cybersecurity training are “likely insufficient” against more sophisticated ransomware attacks
  • 74% of respondents “strongly agree” that internal technology resources are insufficient on their own to significantly enhance cybersecurity training

While the Entreda survey results are intriguing on their own, we thought it would benefit our readers to understand how a cross-section of industry leaders are thinking about cybersecurity training in general, with respect to ransomware specifically, and both for now as well as the future.

Core Must-Have Features of Cybersecurity Training for Wealth Management Firms

Doug Besso, Chief Technology Officer, HighTower

From Doug Besso, Chief Technology Officer, HighTower:

In my opinion, relevancy and timeliness are key to making the concepts in any training program actually resonate.  Towards this end, we work with an industry veteran third-party training firm that keeps material up to date in terms of examples and situations. 

Accountability is also paramount.  Our corporate employees and all of our advisor firms are required to take periodic training, and we reward teams with fast completion rates. 

We’ve also made the training available for our advisor firms to share with their own clients, as well as hosting webinars with our own Chief Information Security Officer.  Speakers include a former FBI agent/White House Security Task force member.  The goal is to keep the topic top-of-mind and ensure everyone has the right tools to stay safe. 

Top Four Ways to Best Address Ransomware Training for Firms and Advisors

Sid Yenamandra, CEO, Entreda

From Sid Yenamandra, Founder & CEO, Entreda:

During the pandemic, as more workers logged in from home, there was a 350% increase in phishing emails to our wealth management clients. No firm wants to be our industry’s next Colonial Pipeline.  But all it takes is one wrong click, and the end result could be catastrophic.

Here are four key action items for wealth management firms that are serious about beefing up cybersecurity training:

  1. First, engage in real-world, table-top exercises. Table-top exercises using real-world, use case-based training scenarios are the best for organizations to ensure proper preparation. Beware of check-the-box training solutions.
  1. Second, provide remediation and training in real time, immediately upon detecting gaps in a user’s cybersecurity posture. Timing and context are everything with training – If firms wait six months after an incident or near miss, the training loses relevance and effectiveness.  You want cybersecurity training to take hold and lead to changes in behavior.
  1. Third, train users in specific measures and tactics that can combat or significantly mitigate the impact of ransomware attacks. For example, backups are crucial because hackers can’t hold data that exists elsewhere for ransom. Setting automatic reminders to all users to periodically back up data is a good approach to reinforce this strategy.
  1. Always purchase cyber insurance that actually covers ransomware. These policies should include paying the ransom if needed, in addition to coverage for loss of revenue, public relations costs and legal fees.

Cybersecurity Expectations and the Financial Advisor Recruiting Process

Jeff Nash, CEO, BridgeMark Strategies

From Jeff Nash, Founder & CEO, BridgeMark Strategies:

In an environment with potentially greater risk of ransomware attacks, it’s obviously important for firms to emphasize cybersecurity training and other resources with home office staff and existing financial advisors.

But it’s at least as important for firms to think through what their positioning is with prospective financial advisor recruits on this topic.  

Recruiting is the lifeblood of any IBD or RIA aggregator, and increasingly, firms are facing an uptick of questions about their cybersecurity protections and training from prospective recruits who have seen all the headlines about Colonial Pipeline, JBS and all the other ransomware attacks in recent months.

And let’s be clear:  This elevated concern among advisor recruits isn’t just a function of news about cybercrimes.  The large Wall Street wirehouses have been proactive and aggressive in publicly building out a mystique for themselves when it comes to cybersecurity resources.  

Their narrative to financial advisors is pretty straightforward.  Robust cybersecurity tools and training, especially in an age of intensifying ransomware attacks, is vital.  You and your clients can’t afford to work a firm that offers anything less than our gold standard of cyber protections.

For IBDs and RIA aggregators, it’s crucial to have a solid messaging about cybersecurity capabilities.  Firms should assume that, even if they don’t bring up this topic, prospective recruits will.

The Future of Cybersecurity Training – Artificial Intelligence to the Rescue

From Sindhu Joseph, Ph.D., Founder & CEO, CogniCor:

Sindhu Joseph, PhD, CogniCor

Cybersecurity training frequently involves reviewing many documents containing large volumes of information that users must remember and apply to their day-to-day duties. 

In reality, many of those going through cybersecurity training skim through the materials and never go back to them unless there’s a cyber emergency.  And when such a need does present itself, they often scramble to understand the relevant set of policies from a vast amount of documentation, resulting in errors and increased security vulnerabilities. 

This is where artificial intelligence can be enormously helpful – And specifically, AI-powered virtual assistants.  These systems can ingest vast volumes of information from documents, knowledge repositories and checklists to deliver crisp, natural-language responses to user queries, much as a human trainer would.  

Building on this capability, firms can use virtual assistants to train the staff at scale by leading them though specialized training curricula focused on cybersecurity and ransomware mitigation, as well as personalized quizzes. 

Unlike static methods such as documents-based training, virtual assistants can adapt as firms’ cybersecurity policies evolve, as new vulnerabilities are discovered, and as new best practices emerge.

There are so many compelling reasons as to why AI and cybersecurity are already the two hottest topics in the industry today.

Looking ahead to the future, I believe advanced AI virtual assistants will take a significantly greater role in raising cybersecurity awareness among staff as well as proactively preventing cybersecurity breaches by monitoring and engaging users at the point of action. 

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