First, bit of context: The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is the conduct and prudential regulator for financial services in the UK. They are in-part an equivalent to the Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority (APRA).

Record cyber related fine

This week the FCA handed down a record cyber related fine to the banking arm of the UK’s largest supermarket chain Tesco for failing to protect account holders from a “foreseeable” cyber attack two years ago. The fine totalled £23.4 million but due to an agreed early stage discount, the fine was reduced by 30% to £16.4 million.

Cyber attack?

It could be argued that this was not a cyber attack in that it was not a breach of Tesco Bank’s network or software but rather a new twist on good old card fraud. But for clarity, the FCA defined the attack which lead to this fine as: “a mass algorithmic fraud attack which affected Tesco Bank’s personal current account and debit card customers from 5 to 8 November 2016.”

What cyber rules did Tesco break?

Interestingly, the FCA does not have any cyber specific regulation. The FCA exercised powers through provisions published in their Handbook. This Handbook has Principles, which are general statements of the fundamental obligations. Therefore Tesco’s fine was issued against the comfortably generic Principle 2: “A firm must conduct its business with due skill, care and diligence”

What does this mean for Australian financial services?

APRA, you may recall from our previous blog. has issued a draft information security regulation CPS 243. This new regulation sets out clear rules on how regulated Australian institutions should be managing their cyber risk.

If we use the Tesco Bank incident as an example, here is how APRA could use CPS 234:

Information security capability: “An APRA-regulated entity must actively maintain its information security capability with respect to changes in vulnerabilities and threats, including those resulting from changes to information assets or its business environment”. –  Visa provided Tesco Bank with threat intelligence as Visa had noted this threat occurring in Brazil and the US.  Whilst Tesco Bank actioned this intelligence against its credit cards, it failed to do so against debit cards which netted the threat actors £2.26 million.

Incident management: “An APRA-regulated entity must have robust mechanisms in place to detect and respond to information security incidents in a timely manner. An APRA-regulated entity must maintain plans to respond to information security incidents that the entity considers could plausibly occur (information security response plans)”.  – The following incident management failings were noted by the FCA:

  • Tesco Bank’s Financial Crime Operations team failed to follow written procedures;
  • The Fraud Strategy Team drafted a rule to block the fraudulent transactions, but coded the rule incorrectly.
  • The Fraud Strategy Team failed to monitor the rule’s operation and did not discover until several hours later, that the rule was not working.
  • The responsible managers should have invoked crisis management procedures earlier.

Do we think APRA will be handing out fines this size?

Short answer, yes. Post the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry, there is very little love for the financial services industry in Australia. Our sense is that politicians who want to remain politicians will need to be seen to be tough on financial services and therefore enforcement authorities like APRA will most likely see an increase in their budgets.

Unfortunately for those of you in cyber and risk teams in financial services, it is a bit of a perfect storm. The regulator has a new set of rules to enforce, the money to conduct the investigation and a precedence from within the Commonwealth.

What about the suppliers?

Something that not many are talking about but really should be, is the supplier landscape. Like it or not, the banks in Australia are some of the biggest businesses in the country. They use a lot of suppliers to deliver critical services including cyber security. Under the proposed APRA standard:

Implementation of controls: “Where information assets are managed by a related party or third party, an APRA-regulated entity must evaluate the design and operating effectiveness of that party’s information security controls”.

Banks are now clearly accountable for the effectiveness of the information security controls operated by their suppliers as they relate to a bank’s defences. If you are a supplier (major or otherwise) to the banks, given this new level of oversight from their regulator, we advise you to get your house in order because it is likely that your door will be knocked upon soon.


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