Robert DicksonHas your credit union been involved in a cyber incident? If so, consider yourself part of a growing crowd. Financial institutions from Bank of America to Patelco and University Credit Union were victims, as well. In fact, cyberattacks targeting mid-market businesses were up 61% last year; if you haven’t already been hit, then it’s probably only a matter of time.

Credit unions enjoy the trust of their members. A cyber breach can damage your brand reputation irreparably. When a breach occurs, malware spreads like wildfire, and losses escalate dramatically if not quickly identified and contained. Unfortunately, cyber breaches take an average of eight months to identify, and by then it’s too late. Much like treating a serious illness, the best remedy for an advanced cyber attack is early detection and aggressive treatment.

Most credit unions now face the same cyber problems plaguing large companies like JP Morgan and Home Depot, but with limited budgets and technical resources. Faced with constant and growing cyber threats, what can mid-market credit unions do to level the playing field?

Fortunately, there are new kinds of technology that work well for mid-market enterprises who want the latest cyber defense without having to break the bank. Traditional anti-malware solutions are based on scanning for code signatures, a fingerprint for already known malicious code. The problem is, it’s far too easy for hackers to change their software so it remains hidden to signature-based solutions. Instead, new technology based on network behavior detection offers a faster, easier and better way.

The latest cyber research shows that all malware exhibit similar behaviors. No matter the code signature, network behavior reveals malware long before data is stolen. Without such technology, you’d need to identify, analyze and respond to millions of discrete security events. Such forensic investigation requires highly trained personnel or costly outsourcing. In contrast, network behavior analysis allows any IT administrator to focus on just a few at-risk systems, rather than millions of individual events and false positives.

What steps can credit unions take to respond more effectively?

1. Monitor. Advanced malware attacks are like 24×7 convenience stores – they never close. Make sure your network behavior monitoring is continuous, that it provides a mechanism to alert you remotely when systems show early indicators of compromise, and that even non-technical users can easily understand the results.

2. Prioritize. You may not know it, but even small businesses are subject to hundreds of attacks every day. With limited resources at your disposal, you need to know if any have been successful. Easier said than done. Network behavior monitoring should only alert you when internal systems are actually at risk and, most importantly, show which systems are at the greatest risk of compromise. The system needs to provide actionable information to help you understand and classify the risk without having to call in an expensive security consultant.

3. Act and Access. You’ll need a system that allows you to perform triage quickly. Once you neutralize a threat, it’s also important to assess your security posture on an ongoing basis to make sure your environment is clear, and provide peace of mind to executive management, as well as internal audit and compliance staff.

Credit unions will continue to be a growing target for cyber thieves, and the attention paid to this danger is a focal point of future NCUA exams. Make sure that your organization has the tools and technology to combat this threat. Failure to do so could put your credit union on the front page of this publication, but for all the wrong reasons.

Robert Dickson is chief security officer at TaaSera Net Trust.  He can be reached at or 314-422-5707.