How 'SWIFT' Are Your Payments?

Pooja Shah May 11, 2021

Have you ever wondered what happens when you make large payments to the other side of the world? How your banking provider ensures your money remains secure on its journey? Let's take a deeper look at the most common method used today.

 

What is SWIFT?

Your bank is most likely connected to a global messaging system popularly known as the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications System. SWIFT is a leading provider of secure financial messaging services. It is important to note, that SWIFT does not hold or manage accounts on behalf of customers.

SWIFT is simply a messaging network that communicates payment orders from one bank to another in a secure manner, enabling wire transfers via a global network of intermediary banks. 

 

How SWIFT Started

Amazingly, all of this started in Belgium back in 1973, where a cooperative of 239 banks had the aim of replacing the Telex Network - the most common method of electronic communications between businesses in the post-World War II period.

By 1977 the SWIFT system went live, with 518 member banks from 22 countries, sending over 51,700 messages a day!

Today, the network handles more than 6 billion messages a year. SWIFT is now the payment services backbone for more than 11,000 institutions in over 200 countries and territories.

The SWIFT messaging network's data centres keep a very low profile too. As far as we know, they have operations located somewhere in Switzerland (surprise, surprise), Virginia and the Netherlands. There is also a fourth operation site which is only known by a handful of SWIFT executives.

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*Actual footage inside SWIFT😉

 

Is the SWIFT Network Still Secure Today? 

After a series of recent and very famous cyber-attacks on banks, this giant platform says that its core messaging platform is uncompromised.

Growing rapidly in adoption every year, SWIFT has added a range of ancillary products and services to stay ahead of cybercriminals, such as Interfaces and Integration, Compliance, Training, Consulting and Operational Services - plus many more.

The authentication process it uses is designed to authenticate whether the sender and the receiver of a message actually are who they claim to be. Naturally, a system designed in this way is vulnerable to cyber-attacks where the threat actors are successful in gaining access to a users’ credentials.

Moreover, detecting this type of breach in real-time is extremely difficult.

 

Recent SWIFT Developments

SWIFT's position is that it is the responsibility of its customers to make sure they are taking the appropriate precautions to remain secure. SWIFT is merely a platform that helps to verify and facilitate, rather than bear the responsibility of the transactions themselves. As such, while they educate their customers on best practices and how to use the SWIFT network appropriately, it is not their responsibility to check network compliance.

To mitigate further breaches and foster a culture of cyber resilience, SWIFT seeks to constantly make fundamental changes in the way it operates - by hiring cyber forensics teams, distributing software patches and publishing anonymised incident reports on a restricted part of its networks for the users to track attack developments.

The national bank of Belgium is the lead regulator and has asked SWIFT to continuously report developments.

Overall, this financial messaging service is also overseen by the world’s top central banks, such as; the U.S. Federal Reserve, Bank of England and European Central Bank.

SWIFT is not the only messaging service when it comes to making large payments - however, it is undoubtedly the most popular. Switching to an available alternative, while not impossible, is difficult. Therefore, given its critical role in banking and finance, there is a constant watch on SWIFT's progress reports.  

 

Ensuring SWIFT Compliance

While there's no need for 'compliance' per se, ensuring SWIFT best practices are being adopted throughout your organisation will mitigate potential cyber attacks and internal mishaps.

The SWIFT Customer Security Controls Framework (CSF) is designed to help with exactly this. These are controls derived directly from SWIFT guidelines that seek to ensure your business is taking the appropriate measures to stay secure as possible on the SWIFT network. The good news is that the SWIFT CSF is loaded (and updated) onto the 6clicks platform ready for you to implement right now.

By leveraging the SWIFT CSF on the 6clicks platform (just grab it from our Content Library) you can now further mitigate cyber attacks that are caused due to:

  • System Vulnerabilities

A weakness in a system or network that could be exploited to cause damage or allow an attacker to manipulate the system in any of several ways, depending on the nature of the vulnerability and the attacker's motives. These vulnerabilities can exist because of unanticipated interactions of different software programs, system components, or fundamental flaws in an individual program. Other types of attacks or threats associated with security vulnerabilities are Ransomware, Trojans, Worms, Backdoor attacks, and many more.

  • Privileged Account Attacks 

Privileged (or admin accounts) access points are one of the primary points of attackers. Attackers infiltrate privileged access points through phishing, malicious attachments and links, and viruses. This is very dangerous as it gives access to additional valuable resources like servers, databases, and other critical systems. To avoid these kinds of attacks, it must be ensured that no end-users should have administrative access, and if access is provided, it should be given for isolated or non-critical systems. With some of the most significant breaches, like the Saudi Armco and Subway Data breach, privileged accounts were the root cause

  • Password Attacks 

The most common cause of corporate and personal data breach is password attacks. According to a report - in 2020, 81% of the data breaches were due to compromised "weak passwords". This is one of the risks for businesses as their personal and sensitive information can be exposed online. The real problem is, while most businesses are aware of the consequences, weak password practices often continue out of convenience. SWIFT Customer Security Controls Framework (CSCF) provides the policies to implement password best practices, physical and logical storage protection and Multi-factor Authentication.

 

If you're still unsure, we encourage you to check out the other content available in the 6clicks Content Library or book a demo with our team below. We'd love to show you how easy it can be!

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