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National Australia Bank CEO reveals the scale of the challenge major financial institutions are facing from cyberattacks

Banking / news
National Australia Bank CEO reveals the scale of the challenge major financial institutions are facing from cyberattacks

In a rare move a major bank boss has detailed the scale of the challenge major financial institutions are facing from cyberattacks.

Speaking at a Trans-Tasman Business Circle event in Wellington, Ross McEwan, CEO of BNZ's parent National Australia Bank (NAB), said cyberattacks can be hugely disruptive to business, economies and communities.

"I said in a statement to an Australian Parliamentary Committee two years ago that cybercrime was one of the greatest threats of our time. It remains so."

Nothing too surprising about those comments. However he went on to put some meat on the bone.

"On a monthly basis, NAB has more than 50 million attacks on our digital channels. These are blocked by controls we have in place. Multiply this across the industry in Australia and New Zealand and you see size of the problem," McEwan said.

"The recent cyberattack on Optus in Australia is the kind of incident that keeps CEOs up at night. It further illustrates the need for a comprehensive public and private sector response."

McEwan said NAB and BNZ are protecting customers with new technologies such as biometrics and experts monitoring customer accounts 24/7 to detect unusual account activity.

"Tens of millions of dollars are invested each year to protect our customers. We also partner with the government and industry on a range of key initiatives."

"Unfortunately, in New Zealand last year, Netsafe reported more than $27 million lost to scams and fraud. In 2021 in Australia, the figure was $1.8 billion in reported losses. Given an estimated one third of victims do not report being scammed, the actual figure is likely much more than $2 billion and it’s growing every year," said McEwan.

"At an individual level, for all of us, personal vigilance and education is vital."

Banks are typically reticent to provide specific details about the volume of cyberattacks they're dealing with, making McEwan's comment about 50 million attacks significant. Cyberattacks have caused major headaches for NZ banks and their customers, such as on Kiwibank and ANZ in September 2021, and even the Reserve Bank in late 2020

Roger Beaumont, CEO of bank lobby group the New Zealand Bankers' Association, says cyberattacks are a key concern for the banking industry.

"The digital world in which we live makes many aspects of modern life susceptible to malicious cyberattacks, from government services to the private sector, and just about everything in between. Cyber criminals range from individuals to state sponsored actors, with the latter appearing to gain prominence in times of geo-political instability," says Beaumont.

“Trust is at the heart of banking and banks take the security of their systems and their customers’ information incredibly seriously. Our banks anticipate these threats and have protections in place to help ensure they can keep delivering the seamless digital service that customers now expect. Cyber threats are constantly evolving, as is the banking industry’s vigilance and response to those threats.”

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A state attacking assets like a plane or ship would likely start a war. But the same state attacking a digital network seems pretty much free of consequences, and potentially quite lucrative.