Instant messaging apps put financial institutions at risk

As more people in the financial sector work from home or remotely, the use of free instant messaging apps, such as WhatsApp, is rising to enable remote employees to communicate with their colleagues around the world. However, data from a recent survey from StarLeaf, conducted by Vanson Bourne, has revealed that 78 per cent of IT decision-makers within financial services reported having serious security concerns around the use of free consumer messaging apps.

The survey revealed that instant messaging is overtaking email, with 61 per cent of respondents in the financial services sector stating it is the most effective way to communicate with remote colleagues, compared to 58 per cent for email. Instant messaging can offer high speed of communication and fast decision-making, which can be crucial in the financial sector to be ahead of the competition and drive higher profits. The transition from email to instant messaging is further reflected in the survey, with 52% of financial services respondents reporting an increase in the use of free messaging apps.

However, while instant messaging is becoming increasingly popular within the financial services industry, organisations are also expressing concerns about the security of these free apps. 85 per cent of respondents to the StarLeaf survey reported that the security of their instant messaging apps could be improved. These concerns reflect the potential for free messaging apps to undermine corporate network security, opening up financial services organisations to data breaches, and providing a point of entry for malicious hackers looking to disrupt business operations and steal customer data. As corporate networks have grown in complexity, and data breaches can occur from something as simple as sending an email to the wrong person, financial organisations must ensure that security is a priority.

On a recent episode of Comms Business Live Adam Clyne, CEO of Coolr, commented, “I call it the WhatsApp time bomb for large organisations. The experience on WhatsApp is fantastic, there is nothing that gets near that but it happens too organically within organisations and there is no control. What we see time and time again when we go in and do deployments is there are WhatsApp groups everywhere within these organisations, the company don’t own the data and no one manages the groups. We see there are active groups within businesses where commercially sensitive information is being shared but there are people within the group that are no longer employees because it’s not being driven by HR. I think there will be a huge wave of issues and it will be a domino effect once one large organisation is hit.”

Commenting on the findings William MacDonald, Chief Technology Officer at StarLeaf, says: “Data security and protection has never been more crucial within the financial industry. With consistent news coverage of cyber-attacks, it is vital for finance firms to remain compliant under the terms of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). We have already seen high-profile cases this year where high street banks have been hacked and lost sensitive information. It has never been more important for financial services to tighten internal processes for data sharing and to ensure data transmission is secure, so customer and commercial details do not fall into the wrong hands.

“Financial organisations should engage with vendors that prioritise security and develop their instant messaging solutions in-house, as well as fully own their technology architecture and data centres. Cloud-based solutions are intelligently engineered to allow enterprise users to reliably and securely connect, communicate, and collaborate more efficiently. This allows organisations to choose the jurisdiction of their data jurisdiction so that they know their data remains within their control and cannot be accessed by third-parties.

“Instant messaging is a growing part of our culture of communication, but financial organisations should adopt the right solutions to minimise risk and protect users’ data. Secure messaging engineered for the enterprise enables a more mobilised workforce to meet and message more effectively, as well as retain customer trust,” MacDonald concludes.

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David Dungay

Editor - Comms Business Magazine