Why Hackers Will Continue to Target Financial Services in 2015

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- In 2015, cyber criminals will diversify and financial incentives will be the driving force behind advanced persistent threats (APTs) according to the Kaspersky Security Bulletin 2014. Predictions 2015 report published by Kaspersky Lab, a software security vendor headquartered in Moscow.

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The Kaspersky security bulletin indicated that, in 2014, the company has seen an increase in targeted attacks that focus directly on banks, using APTs to initiate fund transfers and exploiting vulnerabilities, regardless of operating system or technology used.

An advanced persistent threat is generally accepted as one where a remote attack penetrates a system or network and remains there undetected, while gathering data and installing additional programs to maximize access to the entire network.

Not your Typical Hacker

Hackers using APTs do not work alone as few have the resources or knowledge to initiate a sustained attack on a network. What we are dealing with in general is large groups (often well-funded by governments), although in 2015, according to Kaspersky's predictions, these groups will splinter, resulting in a wide range of attack types.

The Kaspersky report adds: "it means that bigger companies that were previously compromised by two or three major APT groups (e.g., Comment Crew and Webky) will see more diverse attacks, coming from more sources."

Financial Targets

Automated teller machines (ATMs) are an attractive target for cyber criminals as many banks still use Windows XP as the 'brains' of these systems. However, attacks on ATMS will become more sophisticated in 2015.

"The next stage will see attackers compromising the networks of banks and using that level of access to manipulate ATM machines in real time," said the report.

Ticketing machines, many of which also use Windows XP are vulnerable and attacks could result in free tickets or gathering of credit card information for use elsewhere.

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While Apple's (AAPL) operating systems (OS) are closed by default, a number of users disable security measures they see as restrictive, allowing hackers a backdoor to the system, especially when installed pirated software often contains hidden malware (malicious software.)

"What better target than virtual payment systems in their infancy?" asks the report.

Virtual payment systems that rely on near field communication (NFC) have provided little in the way of financial gain for hackers due to their low adoption rate. However, the success of Apple Pay is like to change that, said the report and "will inevitably attract many cybercriminals looking to reap the rewards of these transactions."

The Internet of Things (IoT) is another viable target as more devices are connected.

"We expect to see IoT devices form part of an APT group's arsenal, especially at high-value targets where connectivity is being introduced to the manufacturing and industrial processes," said the report.

It is worth mentioning that the attack mentioned in the report, where an accountant's system was hacked to send a large payment, was ultimately caused by a hacker's use of social engineering (in this case, a fake email from a tax authority with a Microsoft Word attachment) to install a program on the system.

Increasing staff awareness of IT security basics can prevent many attacks, as human error often allows hackers access to the system when opening attachments from unknown users or acting on instructions from phishing (email method where cyber criminals try to obtain personal or financial details) emails that are supposedly from your own banks.

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This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no position in the stocks mentioned.

TheStreet Ratings team rates APPLE INC as a Buy with a ratings score of A+. TheStreet Ratings Team has this to say about their recommendation:

"We rate APPLE INC (AAPL) a BUY. This is based on the convergence of positive investment measures, which should help this stock outperform the majority of stocks that we rate. The company's strengths can be seen in multiple areas, such as its solid stock price performance, growth in earnings per share, revenue growth, notable return on equity and expanding profit margins. Although the company may harbor some minor weaknesses, we feel they are unlikely to have a significant impact on results."

You can view the full analysis from the report here: AAPL Ratings Report

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