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Understanding Managed Detection and Response (MDR) Services

Lorna Jones

Lorna Jones, Senior Cyber Security Consultant
Jan 02, 2024

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The Year is 2025, and the Robot Uprising has Begun!

Well, not quite. But it certainly felt that way for CTO Frank Smith at First National Bank, glancing at the alarms lighting up the security dashboard on a Tuesday morning. An army of hostile malware bots attacked the bank's systems, each one ruthlessly trying to breach the digital vault and loot the piles of virtual gold stored within.

"We're being robbed!" shouted Frank, immediately activating the bank's incident response protocols. The security team scrambled to contain the outbreak, but the attack spread. Internal security tools and analysts were unable to get it under control.
This devastating scenario is fictional but a real threat facing banks and financial institutions worldwide. Sophisticated cyber attacks are rising, and legacy security tools are no match for these stealthy, automated threats.

To effectively defend against these modern attacks, banks need to leverage managed detection and response (MDR) platforms that provide advanced threat hunting, real-time detection, in-depth investigation, and rapid response capabilities on a 24/7 basis. 

Why MDR is Crucial for the Banking Sector

For banks and financial organisations, cybersecurity is a mission-critical priority. They store compassionate customer personally identifiable information (PII), financial account and credit card data, and facilitate the daily transfer of billions of dollars. One breach could be catastrophic, resulting in massive financial fraud losses and irreparable reputational damage.
Cybercriminals increasingly utilise advanced techniques to evade traditional perimeter defences like firewalls, antivirus, and intrusion prevention systems. Malware is delivered via phishing emails, then lays low using file-less techniques before deploying ransomware or data exfiltration. Insider threats are another significant risk, where rogue employees abuse their access for profit.

These threats play out across a sprawling attack surface as banks rely on huge enterprise IT environments full of servers, endpoints, networks, cloud platforms, and banking applications. Security teams are flooded with more data than they can analyse manually. The typical bank needs more internal resources and expertise to hunt for hidden threats 24/7 or investigate every alert.

It is where MDR services fill the gap. MDR providers position specialised security operations centre (SOC) personnel and support technologies to ingest logs, alerts, and data across the IT environment. The MDR service can detect attacks that evade traditional controls by leveraging threat intelligence, behavioural analytics, and machine learning. Expert analysts then contained the incident and investigated root causes to prevent repeat attacks. 

Notable Banking Breaches and Incidents

The banking industry has suffered significant cybersecurity incidents that have resulted in massive fraud losses and data breaches. MDR services could have helped detect and respond to some of these threats:

2016 SWIFT Attacks
In 2016, the infamous hack of the SWIFT interbank messaging network stole over $80 million from Bangladesh Bank and attempted thefts from other banks. Hackers compromised the SWIFT infrastructure through phishing and Trojans to submit fraudulent money transfer orders.
2018 Pune Cosmos Bank Heist
An attack on India's Cosmos Bank in 2018 bypassed security mechanisms and resulted in someone stealing $13.5 million by simultaneously issuing fraudulent ATM withdrawals across 28 countries.
2021 Accenture Watering Hole Attack
A supply chain attack on IT vendor Accenture compromised banking industry customers via malicious code inserted into updates for financial transaction software.
2022 CIBC Breach
Canadian bank CIBC suffered a breach exposing the personal data of over 400,000 customers. Attackers exploited a third-party vendor to access sensitive information.

How MDR Could Have Helped

MDR services deliver capabilities that could have reduced the impact of, or even prevented, some of these incidents:

Detecting Internal Threats
MDR behavioural analytics and user activity monitoring could spot insider actions enabling fraud like unauthorised database queries, suspicious account access, and privilege misuse.
Catching External Threats
Network traffic analysis, endpoint monitoring, and threat hunting may have detected malware, remote access, and other indicators of compromise used in external attacks.
Accelerating Incident Response
MDR would have specialised expertise and playbooks tailored to contain banking sector incidents quickly. A rapid response could have limited damages.
Strengthening Defences
Continuous assessments by MDR personnel could identify and remedy security gaps like outdated software, and misconfigurations, to harden banks against threats.
While not a silver bullet, MDR capabilities could tilt the odds further in favour of banks' cyber defences against internal and external threats.

Key MDR Capabilities for Banking Institutions

MDR platforms offer several capabilities especially suited to the risks banks face:
Endpoint Detection and Response
Advanced attacks often start by compromising individual endpoints. MDR services deploy endpoint detection and response (EDR) agents across all endpoints to provide deep visibility into the fleet's file, process, memory, and network activity. Behavioural analytics and machine learning detect malicious activity, while SOCs can remotely conduct forensic investigations, identify compromised hosts, and eliminate threats.
Network Traffic Analysis
By analysing network flows and packet data, MDR services can detect traffic anomalies, malware callbacks, and data exfiltration attempts that signal cyber attacks. This data is enriched with threat intelligence to pinpoint malicious IPs, domains, and signatures.
Log Correlation and Analytics
MDR aggregates and normalises data from firewalls, endpoints, cloud platforms, identity systems, and custom applications into a central SIEM platform. Machine learning, statistical analysis, and rule-based correlation detect threats individual point tools miss.
Threat Hunting
Proactive threat hunters in the MDR SOC undertake regular hunting missions through the bank's historical log data and alerts to isolate dormant infections, scout for insider activity, and map attack trends over time. This process continuously strengthens threat detection capabilities.
Case Management and Incident Response
MDR platforms provide collaborative case management workflows to track incidents from alert through investigation, containment, eradication, and recovery. The MDR team can provide hands-on incident response support or work with the bank's internal response team throughout the process.
Vertical Expertise in Financial Services
Leading MDR providers possess institutional knowledge of banking-specific threats like Trojans and remote access malware that target online banking users, SWIFT messaging attacks, ATM jackpotting, and more. The MDR team has experience remediating past incidents at other banks.

MDR Supports Bank Compliance and Risk Reduction

For banks, cybersecurity is tightly linked with compliance. Regulators like the FDIC, OCC, Federal Reserve, and state banking authorities have enacted stringent requirements for financial institution cybersecurity programs. These regulations include:

GLBA Safeguards Rule - Requires controls for protecting customer financial data.
PCI DSS - Mandates credit card issuer and merchant environments security.
NYDFS Cybersecurity Regulations - New York data protection, detection, and response guidelines.
GDPR - EU regulations governing personal data privacy.
MDR services directly support compliance with these schemes by implementing preventative security controls, continuous monitoring to detect threats, and accelerated response when incidents occur.

Furthermore, migrating detection and response to an MDR platform reduces overall business risk. Analysts gain consistent visibility and control rather than relying on fragmented internal tools. The 24/7 SOC team is an extension of bank staff to investigate and neutralise threats.

MDR Delivers Powerful Security at Lower Cost

In addition to strengthened security and risk management, MDR provides compelling cost savings that make advanced capabilities affordable for banks.
Economies of Scale
MDR providers integrate infrastructure, tools, and staff across multiple clients to offer far more cost-efficient services than banks can achieve internally. The monthly MDR subscription fee buys access to enterprise-grade technologies and teams of specialised security experts.
Converting Capex to Opex
MDR shifts security spending from significant capital expenditures on hardware and software to a flexible operating expense in the form of a subscription. This better aligns costs with actual usage rather than upfront capital outlays.
Streamlined Staffing
Banks avoid the high costs of hiring, training, and retaining sizeable internal security teams with niche skills like threat hunting. The MDR provider handles staffing, enabling the bank to reallocate internal roles to other priorities.
Proactive Risk Reduction
Enhanced threat detection and faster response help banks avoid costs associated with breaches like financial fraud losses, customer lawsuit settlements, stock price declines, and regulatory fines.
Optimised Infrastructure
MDR consolidates security data into a cloud platform tailored for scalability—no need for ongoing upgrades to on-prem SIEMs and data lakes. Cloud analytics remove hardware limits on data ingestion and retention.
Business Focus
Rather than distracting focus on building a security infrastructure, banks can concentrate technology and personnel on developing innovative new digital banking products and customer experiences.
Overall, MDR enhances security capabilities in a significantly more cost-efficient manner compared to traditional in-house models. Banks gain access to enterprise-class security at predictable costs aligned to authentic needs.

Why MDR is the Future of Bank Security

As cyber-attacks grow more frequent, stealthy, and severe, banks can no longer rely exclusively on prevention-centric security programs. Attackers will inevitably bypass the perimeter, and insiders may go rogue. Detection and response capabilities are now imperative.

MDR services offer banks a turnkey solution for threat monitoring, intelligent detection, skilled investigations, and rapid incident response. Backed by specialised financial sector expertise, leading MDR platforms give banks an immediate force multiplier for cyber defence.
Banks can stay ahead of cyber adversaries by partnering with an MDR provider like Microminder. Microminder's SOC platform is purpose-built to meet financial organisations' unique security and compliance needs.

Don't wait until your bank suffers a damaging breach to realise the power of MDR. Contact the experts at Microminder today to implement managed detection and response explicitly designed for the banking vertical. With Microminder as your cybersecurity partner, you can protect customer assets, maintain trust and confidence, and focus on driving your core business forward. The future looks bright again!

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