CIOs at financial institutions have a lot to think about every day. Fraud. Data breaches. Integrating IT systems after a merger. It's a tough job, and it's one that usually goes unnoticed unless there's a problem. But one thing that they never envisioned was waking up one day to discover that everyone at the bank was suddenly wearing sweatpants and working from home on nonsecure Internet connections. That's not only a fashion nightmare, but it also has serious implications for data security.
Data breaches can happen at multiple points. Hackers can access networks and help themselves to information that's supposed to be private, and malware can be used to trigger invisible data losses. But one of the biggest areas of risk takes place when data is copied from one system to another. That's because a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and even the most secure technology on the planet can't protect information once it migrates to another system or platform.
Unfortunately, bank data gets copied all the time. When it is copied, it could be shared between 5,000 different systems. This happens so often that most of us don't even think about it anymore, but 40% of IT budgets are dedicated to this one function. In fact, a single simple activity (such as depositing a check or making a mortgage payment) can require 10 or more separate systems — and each time the data is transferred, it has to be copied. By the end of a transaction, there could be more than a dozen copies of the same data.
That's a recipe for chaos even on a good day, but during the pandemic, it's a recipe for disaster. It's bad enough when all of that cutting and pasting is happening within the happy confines of a firewall, but when there are literally thousands of bank employees sending and receiving files on connections from their home that can barely handle an hour of Netflix and online gaming, problems are going to happen. It's not an "if" but a "how bad will it be?"
There are two ways to reduce the likelihood of an information meltdown. The first is to make sure that everyone has secure, business-class Internet at home. This forms the foundation for protecting the database systems and servers where sensitive data is stored. Even if data is encrypted, access to it must be restricted in order to keep it fully secured. That's exactly why employees get onto the bank's network over a VPN when on an unsecured (home) connection, and why they are given specific devices to use that block personal emails, social sites, and USB ports.
The second answer to data insecurity is simply to stop copying data. To do that, data must be freed from the applications that created them. The fact that data is so closely tied to their programs wouldn't be a problem if those programs didn't have to talk to each other. However, the "talking" is the very essence of data sharing and what the financial industry is built on — collaboration and information exchange. These applications are all built using their own language, and they can only communicate with each other when data is copied into their own language. The real solution is to revamp the data architecture so that data exists as a single source that is no longer tied to any one application.
Ensuring top-notch, secure Internet in everyone's homes will cost hundreds of millions of dollars and take years to implement. Stopping the practice of copying data can be accomplished in a few weeks at less than 1% of the cost.
At first glance, this may seem like a pipe dream. The entire financial industry is built on hundreds of standalone apps — from payroll systems to ATM operating systems — that rely on cobbled together "handshakes" to work together. And the vast majority of these handoffs require data to be copied. And then copied again. It's like building the world's most secure house and then mailing door keys to 100 random people. One day, someone's going to end up with your stereo.
Not only is copying data an insane thing to do, but it's completely unnecessary. It's an approach that was first developed in the 1960s and '70s when there really wasn't a practical way to share information between systems. But the world has moved a long way since Osborne and Kaypro dominated the market, and we've been using platform-agnostic tools for decades. It's time for bank IT departments to recognize the dangers of these kinds of data breaches and retire Ctrl-C forever.
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