As long as I have been in security and following the markets, I have observed that no one says security is unimportant. Not out loud, anyway. But their actions usually show a different view. Maybe there is a little more funding. Maybe somewhat better visibility at the board level. But mostly security gets a lot of lip service.

In other words, security doesn’t matter. Until it does.

The international interbank payment system called SWIFT has successfully been hit multiple times by hackers, and a few other attempts have been foiled. Now they are going to start turning the screws on member banks, because SWIFT has finally realized they can be very secure but still get pwned. It doesn’t help when the New York Federal Reserve gets caught up in a ruse due to lax security at a bank in Bangladesh.

So now the lip service is becoming threats. That member banks will have their access to SWIFT revoked if they don’t maintain a sufficient security posture. Ah, more words. Will this be like the words uttered every time someone asks if security is important? Or will there be actual action behind them?

That action needs to include specific guidance on what security actually looks like. This is especially important for banks in emerging countries, which may not have a good idea of where to start. And yes, those organizations are out there. The action also needs to involve some level of third-party assessment. Self-assessment doesn’t cut it.

I think SWIFT can take a page from the Payment Card Industry. The initial PCI-DSS, and the resulting work to get laggards over a (low) security bar did help. It’s not an ongoing sustainable answer, because at some point the assessments became a joke and the controls required by the standard have predictably failed to keep pace with attacks.

But security at a lot of these emerging banks is a dumpster fire. And the folks who work with them realize where the weakest links are. But actions speak much louder than words, so watch for actions.

Photo credit: “Boots” originally uploaded by Rob Pongsajapan