Enhancing Banking Security for Java Applications

If you’ve ever played Red Dead Redemption 2, you know that banks were the holy grail for robbers in the wild west. In the modern digital landscape, the method has shifted from bandana masks and revolvers to keyboards and exploits. But financial institutions have remained the most rewarding targets. The reasoning is relatively straight forward: banks and financial technology companies sit on mountains of digital currency. This means attackers know if they can make a clean getaway, the reward will be massive. 

As such, cybersecurity has become a primary concern for banks and fintech companies. These financial institutions face a distinct set of challenges due to the value of their assets and the vast amount of sensitive customer data they handle. Meanwhile, according to a 2022 report, 65% of respondents still use Java. Due to the fact that a lot of the code used in java applications comes from open source libraries, java is one of the most difficult languages to secure.

In this blog post, we will shed light on the specific cybersecurity challenges faced by banks and fintech companies who use Java and explore the importance of implementing java-specific security measures to protect against emerging threats.

Cybersecurity Challenges Faced By the Banking Community

High-Value Target Status

Financial institutions, by nature, are high-value targets for cybercriminals. Successful attacks can lead to significant financial losses, reputational damage, and erosion of customer trust.

Meanwhile, for attackers, each move comes with risk of being caught and slapped with felony charges. By pursuing high-value targets, they can minimize the number of criminal actions they must take while maximizing the payout. 

Regulatory Compliance and Data Privacy

Banks and fintech companies are subject to stringent regulatory requirements and face immense pressure to comply with frameworks such as the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Compliance challenges arise due to the need to protect sensitive customer information, secure transactions, and implement adequate data privacy measures.

What’s more, regulations tend to be slow on the uptake of new technologies, meaning that banking companies can get stuck working with outdated technologies. While regulations are put in place to ensure data security and privacy, they can inadvertently stifle innovation by lagging behind technological advancements. This becomes particularly harmful in the world of banking, where outdated compliance regulations can tether companies to legacy technologies, hindering their ability to embrace more efficient and secure solutions.

One significant example is the SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) API, an outdated legacy protocol that is made mandatory by compliance standards. SOAP was developed to enable communication between software applications in a standardized and platform-independent manner.

Despite its early significance, SOAP is considered outdated due to its complexity, performance drawbacks, and overhead. SOAP’s XML-based format and extensive metadata result in larger messages, slower transmission, and higher computational costs. Its rigid structure and stateful nature also make it less adaptable compared to modern alternatives like REST (Representational State Transfer). In contrast, REST’s simplicity, scalability, and compatibility with various data formats have led to its widespread adoption in the current era of web services. Unfortunately, due to regulatory mandates, financial institutions still find themselves using SOAP, unable to transition to faster and more agile alternatives like REST.

Insider Threats and Privileged Access

Banks and fintech companies face the challenge of insider threats, where employees or trusted individuals misuse their access privileges to exploit vulnerabilities or steal sensitive data. For less lucrative industries, the threat of losing one’s job or reputation would outweigh the benefits of playing a part in a digital heist. But the potential payday in finance is so massive that employees give in to the temptation far more often.

One notable case is the insider trading scandal involving an employee at Société Générale, one of Europe’s largest banks. According to The New York Times, the bank suffered a massive loss of over $7 billion due to a series of fictitious transactions executed by a rogue employee identified as Jérôme Kerviel. The fraud was discovered when auditors detected fake trades. This involved concealing massive fraudulent directional positions beyond the employee’s authority, aided by in-depth knowledge of control procedures. Kerviel took advantage of his privileged access within the bank to manipulate trades, resulting in significant financial losses for the bank. 

Java Security Challenges 

Java presents specific security challenges due to its compiled nature, architecture, and expansive ecosystem. The compiled bytecode format requires a deep understanding of the language and execution environment to effectively secure, as vulnerabilities can be exploited by attackers. Java’s dynamic code loading at runtime can enable malicious code injection and bypass traditional security measures, making it susceptible to cross-site scripting (XSS) attacks. The vast Java ecosystem, with numerous third-party libraries and frameworks, poses challenges for enterprises in maintaining visibility and ensuring the security of all dependencies.

These challenges reached a fever pitch in November 2021 when the Log4Shell exploit was made public. Log4Shell exemplifies the widespread impact such vulnerabilities can have on Java infrastructures. To mitigate these challenges, enterprises must have expertise in Java security, employ robust security controls, and regularly monitor and update their Java applications and dependencies.

Implementing Java-Specific Security Measures without Breaking the Bank

In the banking and fintech sector, keeping the outlaws away from your vault doesn’t have to involve hiring a costly team of Java experts solely focused on security.

You can ensure robust Java-based cybersecurity by adopting security platforms specifically designed for Java, addressing the unique challenges faced by enterprises in this domain. These platforms offer features that detect and prevent attacks exploiting Java’s dynamic code loading, intercepting and analyzing calls to the Java Virtual Machine (JVM) to block any malicious code injection attempts. Implementing a rules engine allows you to define custom security policies, effortlessly managing and enforcing security controls across your Java application portfolio, regardless of complexity. What’s more, these java-specific platforms employ lightweight agents within the JVM, ensuring real-time protection without performance impact or the need for application code changes.

So dawn your cattleman hat and lace up your riding boots, security pros. If Red Dead Redemption 2 teaches us anything, it’s that all you need to succeed is a well-thought out plan.

To learn more about how to implement effective java security measures in the finance sector, schedule a meeting with one of our representatives here.

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