Banks must innovate around IT-security regulatory hurdles: NAB

Andrew Dell, head of IT Security Services Operations within the bank’s NAB Technology division.

Budget and ROI requirements, tempered by increasingly tight privacy and regulatory controls, are forcing companies to consider new approaches to data-security protections, the head of IT security for the National Australia Bank (NAB) has advised.

Speaking to attendees at the recent Evolve 2013 security conference, Andrew Dell, head of IT Security Services Operations within the bank’s NAB Technology division, said the need to deliver cost-effective security solutions was pushing it to favour economies of scale in security planning. “If we want to fund a new security methodology we’ve typically had to put together a business case,” he explained. “It really is a complex piece of work for us to identify where we want to apply our funding to get a holistic defence.”

That imperative has forced the bank’s security staff to think about “faster and smarter ways to secure investment, or to respond to the new threats we’re seeing,” continued Dell, who also spoke about the importance of engaging with executives to take a more proactive security stance. “Possibly our biggest challenge is that criminals don’t have funding cycles.”

Possibly our biggest challenge is that criminals don’t have funding cycles

Whereas cybercriminals by their nature enjoy a significant degree of operational and strategic freedom, the bank’s strong regulatory oversight limited its flexibility to try new approaches to respond to those threats. Protections were operationally prescribed – but the added burden of regulatory compliance also delivered increased costs that impacted on available resources for IT security infrastructure.

“The regulatory environment which we must navigate continues to increase in complexity and is increasingly prescriptive,” Dell said. “Changes in regulation are taking away our ability to protect [transactions] in the way we see fit, and is telling us what controls we need where. That’s not wrong, but it presents a new challenge to how we find and implement infrastructure.”

Andrew Milroy, vice president of ICT research with Frost & Sullivan Asia-Pacific, has seen the impact of these challenges in many organisations, which run the risk of becoming overrun by regulatory controls to the point of inaction.

“In thinking about security around the outset of discussions and movement to cloud using mobile devices, it tends to be a reactive approach,” he said. “Particularly in Asia and Australia, you see where the organisation paralyses itself with concern about security – and this holds it back from a lot of new initiatives.”

“The most progressive organisations are starting to view security as an enabler for these new initiatives, which often use mobile and cloud technology, and positioning security professionals as enablers.”

This imperative is particularly crucial given the growing number of alternative payments-processing options that are appearing on the landscape, Dell said, citing recent Australian debut of payments processor Braintree.

While large banks carry a heavy regulatory burden that carries with it associated IT-security expectations, smaller companies have the freedom to evolve in quite different ways – and to bake security in from the ground up rather than trying to apply it to massive organisations with often conflicting business and IT imperatives.

“These companies are small and agile, and often have little or no regulatory obligations,” Dell explained. “This means that we as a security competency must capitalise upon our skilled workforce and business expertise to evolve beyond technical risk mitigation capabilities, and towards actively contributing to our business’s competitive position.”

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Tags Evolve 2013bank security

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