March 2, 2021

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New MAS guidelines to mitigate technology risks in financial sector

Taking forward the learnings from a recent cyber attack impacting organisations all across the world, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has rolled out a set of central banking rules to mitigate the technology risks in the financial sector.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) now requires all financial institutions to assess the suppliers of their technology vendors. The updated guidelines apply to all banks, payment services firms such as GrabPay and Singtel Dash, as well as brokerage and insurance firms.

In a typical assessment, suppliers may be asked to prove that their software source code is rigorously tested and they do not use unsafe programming practices. Suppliers may also be asked to reveal their security measures and how often they monitor cyber risks.

Mr Vincent Loy, assistant managing director of technology at MAS, shared that using an external vendor which may, in turn, procure third-party tools brings significant risks to banking systems. “Unknown third-party suppliers are what MAS is most worried about… Financial institutions that do not allocate sufficient financial resources may be more open to unknown third-party suppliers,” he said.

The hacking of Texas-based SolarWinds, a leading provider of IT management software, had subjected hundreds of thousands of firms and government entities around the world to risks. SolarWinds’ IT management tools are common components in the products of many large vendors including Microsoft, FireEye and Cisco Systems.

Mr Tan Yeow Seng, the MAS chief cybersecurity officer, said financial institutions are increasingly reliant on third-party service providers as they adopt new technologies. “The revised guidelines set out MAS’ higher expectations in the areas of technology risk governance and security controls in financial institutions,” he added.

Straits Times reported that an assessment of third-party suppliers was previously not required under the MAS Technology Risk Management (TRM) guidelines, although due diligence on technology vendors was a must. The screening of component suppliers is now clearly spelt out in the revised TRM guidelines, which cover a wide range of topics to help firms fob off and recover from cyber-attacks and system failures.

Risks through the use of open application programming interface (API), a code that lets different applications talk to one another, are also addressed in the newly updated TRM rules. Banks have used APIs to automatically share foreign exchange rates, for example. This has allowed many external developers to build currency conversion apps using the data. Under the revised TRM rules, financial services firms must vet entities that access their APIs by looking at the nature of their business, cybersecurity posture, industry reputation and track record. They must also secure the development of the APIs and encrypt sensitive data transmitted to prevent leaks or hackers injecting malicious codes in the APIs.

In another key change to the TRM guidelines, the board of directors and senior management in financial institutions must vet and approve key technology and cyber-security appointments. “Organisations that do not have a good cyber-security posture usually do not have a board and senior management oversight for IT functions and key appointments,” said Mr Loy, citing findings of the central bank’s own audits.

Last revised in 2013, the TRM guidelines have been updated at a time of increased data sharing that underpins the sector’s digital transformation. The revision took in feedback from a public consultation in 2019 and other expert engagements. The guidelines elaborate on the mandatory requirements set out in the MAS TRM notice, first issued in 2013 and which carries a fine of up to $100,000 for non-compliance under the Banking Act. In the case of a continuing offence, a further fine of up to $10,000 daily may be levied.

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