How Banks are Working to Keep Your Data Safe

The breakneck pace of technological change has fundamentally affected the way industries operate and innovate, and banking is no exception. Accessing financial services online has been the norm for years now, with an overwhelming majority of the population using digital channels for most banking transactions. The infrastructure that makes all of this possible, routinely processes massive amounts of sensitive data and needs to constantly evolve to ensure it all remains secure.

To gain a better understanding of how banks protect themselves and their customers, I spoke with Ali Farouk Shaikh, a Unified Communications Solutions Architect at Cisco Systems Inc. who works with major international financial institutions. Ali is a specialist in Software Defined Networking (SDN), with a focus on routing, encryption, and security for large financial services, retail, and manufacturing enterprises.

Where we were

How was customer and banking data handled by banks in the past?

In the classic model, all software applications and data for a bank would reside on a central data centre. Branches communicated with this centre through physical infrastructure entirely separate from (and unconnected to) what you’d use at home to access the internet.

Because of this, security parameters were well-defined. Data and locations were well-defined. It was cumbersome for external threats to access a bank’s network; conversely, it was difficult for users within the network to access the internet.

What prompted a change from that model?

What really started to drive transformative change was a combination of mobile devices and the cloud. The first iPhone pretty much broke the old model. Users could now access data from anywhere, and there was a demand for additional services to be delivered in a mobile-friendly way.

Simultaneously, modern applications were increasingly based in the cloud, leveraging external services such as Google, Microsoft and Amazon. This changing model meant that bank data was now moving in ways that it hadn’t before, and needed new modes of security and building modern infrastructure. In the industry, this is called the digitization of services—essentially moving from classic networks to networks for digitization.

So, the way customers wanted to access banking changed how banks operated?

Pretty much. The end-user experience has changed. Customers can’t be expected to come to the branch for banking anymore—both customers and bank employees use remote devices to access and provide service (whether this is smartphones or mobile devices on the customer side, or employees with iPads and a VPN on the bank’s side).

As a result, the applications (e.g. mobile banking apps) that provide this changed end-user experience had to move away from the traditional model. Banks were slow to introduce their own apps, but this was always the direction they had to head in. However, they also had to account for privacy and security concerns while meeting strict regulations—more importantly, they had to adapt and meet the requirements of a new digital world.

Now, these applications don’t reside with banks, they reside on the cloud and have to interact with various services that external companies like Google, Amazon, Salesforce, etc. provide. They rely on them for analytics, telemetry, auditing data, marketing data, etc. Because of this, the centers of data were no longer data centres. What I mean is, data now lived everywhere, from mobile devices to cloud services like Amazon Web Services (AWS). This new model required stronger safeguards, security, and encryption, because data now had to be transmitted over the internet.

Where we are

In light of this new model, how do banks ensure their data and their customers’ data is protected?

As I mentioned before, banks and financial institutions already had privacy, security, and regulatory compliance in mind when modernizing their operations. Now, there are three principles that are fundamental to maintaining a secure banking environment that satisfies both pre-existing and new regulations imposed by the government: confidentiality, integrity, and application security.

Could you elaborate on those principles? What does satisfying the “confidentiality” principle entail?

In this context, “confidentiality” just means making sure no one except you and your bank can see your data. Naturally, when using your banking application, you want to be assured that no one can access your data while it’s in transit. Banks go to great lengths to make certain that their systems use the highest encryption standards to protect their data and their clients’ data. This means that when using a properly developed banking app, no one will be able to see anything you’re doing on the app even should they somehow manage to covertly intercept your data. Confidentiality is achieved using the latest encryption—Transport Layer Security (TLS) with Advanced Encryption Standard 256 (AES256).

Side note:if you’re wondering how secure AES256 encryption is—it would reportedly take 77,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years and the dedication of the entirety of earth’s population to crack one encryption key. Not to mention, all of those people would need 10 computers each, capable of processing 1 billion key combinations per second. So, it’s safe to assume it’s pretty secure!

What about the “integrity” principle?

Integrity means ensuring data isn’t tampered with in any shape or form. The desire for this is pretty self-explanatory: you’d naturally want your data to be safeguarded from being tampered with. This is achieved in a number of ways. There are mechanisms to enforce data-integrity checks at the machine-level, to make sure data isn’t corrupted or altered in any way while in transit or when stored. There’s a lot of technology and processes that are used to achieve this, including packet duplication, parity, checksums, asynchronous data replication, etc. etc. In essence, even in cases of outages and system failure, data has to remain secure, untampered with, and stored on multiple systems to avoid total loss.

The “security” principle seems straightforward enough, but what exactly goes into achieving that?

So, “security” is the aspect that actually protects users from malicious threats from both “state” and “non-state” actors. From a security standpoint, “state” actors are individuals or groups sponsored by foreign governments that carry out malicious attacks. Banks are critical pieces of a country’s infrastructure and are thus natural targets. “Non-state” actors operate in a similar manner, but without the support or direction of a foreign government.

Banks and financial institutions safeguard against these threats by using firewalls to ensure only authorized applications can access data. This is where Intrusion Prevention Systems/Intrusion Detection Systems (IPS/IDS) are applied, both to only grant access to authorized users and to protect against malware. There are also measures taken to prevent Denial of Service (DoS) attacks so that a customer’s access to their banking services isn’t interrupted. A combination of these techniques is used in what’s called “stateful inspection”—that is to say, before data can move between a client and a server, the data is inspected in multiple ways to ensure that it’s clean and legitimate.

All of this is done by banks to provide their clients with the highest level of security while giving them a new, modern banking experience. Governments are, of course, very actively engaged in setting and implementing standards for security, which include things like PCI-DSS (the standard for the payment card industry), SOC2, ISO27001, ISO9001, ITIL, etc. all of which banks need to meet in order to operate.

Security is taken very seriously, to say the least.

Where we’re headed

What do you think the future holds for the banking industry? Does that future come with its own set of challenges?

Well, there are a couple of things: there’s an increasing evolution of machine-learning, the data it provides, as well the services that can be built on it. Not to mention the 5G revolution that will further accelerate the digitization of the world. I think we’ll begin to see new banking experiences including packages tailored for individuals based on their data, as well as new modes of banking like virtual tellers. Of course, this is all predicated on next-gen technology that has started to enter the marketplace.

The protection of individual data is of paramount importance. Things will have to be secure, untampered with and protected from malicious entities.

Innovation is always a challenge, but the industry will adapt. It always does!

The Ultimate Checklist for Selling Your Home

Selling your home can be an extremely stressful experience. Between thinking about moving logistics and financials, it’s easy to miss the small details in between the process.

With that in mind, we’ve built this checklist for selling your home to help you keep track of the things that will get a potential buyer interested. Turns out, it’s not as simple as just fluffing pillows or doing a light dusting. “Put your buyer’s hat on and walk through your home like it is the first time,” Marilou Young, an Accredited Staging Professional and an Associate Broker with Virtual Properties Realty in the metropolitan Atlanta area, told Forbes.

Below is the ultimate checklist for selling your home.

GET FAMILIAR WITH THE PAPERWORK

For home sellers interested in the history of the house, make sure you’ve got all the information handy; this can include paperwork on renovations, property tax receipts, deeds and transferable warranties.

GETTING THE PRICE RIGHT

According to HGTV, it can be helpful to do some market research on what homes in your area are selling for- then shave 15 to 20 percent off that. This way, you attract multiple buyers who can end up outbidding each other and bringing up the price. While that can seem like a risky move, it could work in the competitive markets of big Canadian cities.

DEPERSONALIZE AND DECLUTTER

You want potential buyers to see themselves in the space, which is hard to do if you have family photos on the wall or personal items around. This would be a good time to start putting items in storage or try to keep your personal items out of sight. At the same time, you’re also ensuring that you’re keeping your house tidy—a must if you want to make your home sellable. Check around the house for dirt, stains or small cracks you might be able to fix. And if you have pets, make sure their litter boxes and play areas are also clean and odour-free.

FIND A QUALIFIED REALTOR

Realtors can be helpful to take some of the processes off your plate, including marketing your home and arranging open houses. If you do go this route, none of this list will matter if you decide to work with a realtor that doesn’t know the market inside out. You can search their name on the Real Estate Institute of Canada to ensure that they’re qualified, and meet with them to see if you mesh and understand how they price your unit. At Proptalk, we also have this handy guide for more details.

DON’T SKIP THE HOME INSPECTION

While presenting an unconditional offer may win you the home of your dreams, it can also end up costing you more than you expected. If you’re mortgaged to the max, you can’t afford surprises like repairs or replacements that you haven’t already budgeted for. Consider a Home Protection Plan that includes an 18-month warranty and up to $20,000 in warranty coverage for major household features such as foundation, roof, heating and cooling.

6 Important Questions to Ask Before a Big Home Renovation

So you want to make a major home renovation. Congratulations! Now, you’ve got to find the right contractor for the job. While doing a thorough online search or asking family and friends is an important first step, once you find a potential contractor, it’s time to start treating the process like a job interview. Being prepared with the right questions protects you from future headaches, but also ensures that you’re happy with the end result.

Hiring a contractor for your big home reno? Ask these important questions to make sure you’re picking the right contractor.

1. What is your experience in home renovation?

This question can help you determine how long the contractor has been in the business, whether they’ve worked with similar challenges as those in your home and how they ensure that projects are completed on time. With this question, you get full insight into their methodology.

You can also find contractors in your area that might have positive Yelp reviews or other social media to see if others are happy with their work.

2. Do you have a contracting license?

Depending on where you live, there are different requirements for what type of license a contractor has to hold. Check the laws in your region to see what might apply, and ask potential contractors directly whether they hold those licenses.

3. Do you carry the appropriate insurance?

According to the Canadian Homeowner’s Association, hiring people without the proper insurance could put you at legal and financial risk should something happen in your home. Protect yourself (and the workers improving your home) by checking off this box in the beginning, and ensure they have both liability insurance and worker’s compensation.

4. Will we get a written contract?

This should be a given if you’re working with a contractor because if the answer is no, don’t even bother moving forward with the interview. The CHBA says contracts should cover the description of the work, the materials used and the price of the job. You should also take this as an opportunity to figure out your payment schedule, as the Better Business Bureau in the U.S. says that you should never pay the full price of the job upfront, and the specific timeline for completing your project.

Contractors should also always offer a warranty in writing that informs you of what is covered and for how long.

5. Can we get in touch with your past clients?

A contractor should be proud of their past work. Take this as an opportunity to figure out how contractors approach their work, whether they have effectively handled disputes and fact-check what contractors tell you about their working style.

6. Will you be responsible for building permits?

If there is a chance that your building requires permits, you want to make sure that your contractor is prepared in this area. Square One Insurance says you should try to be present for a contractor’s home inspection to ensure that you fully understand their feedback, and anticipate if any changes in your home need to happen.

What Does Canada’s Aging Population Mean for the Real Estate Market?

I’ve got good news and bad news. The bad news is: we’re not getting any younger. The good news is: we’re not going away anytime soon, either, as life expectancy for Canadians is higher than ever before! At least, I think that’s good news—check back with me in 2050 and let’s see how we all feel about it.

Globally, we’ve hit astoundingly high population numbers for people aged 65+, exceeding a threshold of 672 million people (about 8.9% of the total population) in 2019. That’s an increase of more than 500 million compared to 1960 when there were about 150 million people above 65+ globally (roughly 5% of the global population). Oh yes, that’s a whole lot of people.

In fact, it’s only going to get more crowded as the years go by, with the UN estimating that the number of older persons (above 60) is projected to reach 2.1 billion by 2050. And we think it’s crowded now!

This brings us to Canada’s own aging population: according to Statistics Canada, “seniors are expected to comprise around 23% to 25% of the population by 2036, and around 24% to 28% in 2061”. With a shrinking working population supporting that ~25% segment, the precise economic implications are too varied to be certain of any firm outcome. What is certain is that the older members of our population will need a place to live, which will have a significant effect on Canada’s real estate landscape.

EFFECTS ON THE SUPPLY OF REAL ESTATE

Our aging population affects the supply of property in the real estate market in several interesting ways. The expectation was that baby boomers would find themselves living in large homes with more space than they needed once they’d retired and their children moved out. At that point, they were supposed to sell their property and downsize to smaller (or less expensive) homes. This influx of property into the market (projected to be half a million homes) would help meet rental or purchase demand, in some cases allowing developers to re-purpose the property into larger, higher density structures (especially in cities).

However, changes to the real estate market may significantly affect how that scenario plays out in reality.

  • Small condos and detached or semi-detached townhouses used to be prime candidates for someone looking to downsize. Now, rising real estate prices (especially in cities like Toronto and Vancouver) can make this an incredibly difficult endeavor.
  • Millennials (and soon Gen Zs) have begun to move back in with their parents, as they struggle to contend with exorbitant rent prices, lack of steady work, and extremely high property prices. It’s proven economical for them to live at home rent-free (or at least, with a much lower rent) and save their money to put towards buying homes of their own later.

With more reasons to remain in their current homes (such as their kids moving back in with them), as well as high property prices and a lack of suitable options to downsize to, older homeowners are increasingly choosing to hang on to their property. This, of course, delays the timeframe in which their (usually larger) homes will be released into the housing market, which in turn will further exacerbate property shortages.

EFFECTS ON THE DEMAND FOR REAL ESTATE

Our aging population has implications for the demand side of the real estate market as well. Accessible property, for example, will increasingly grow in demand as people get older. Fierce competition in the housing market has made it difficult for older people to acquire suitable apartments or houses that cater to their needs (such as, ground floor units or accessibility-friendly rental housing).

Affordable, smaller housing with room for live-in or part-time caregivers, especially in close proximity to essential services and infrastructure (health services, public transit, malls/grocery stores, etc.) will become much more desirable as our population ages.

Some of this demand will likely be met by the government, as it works to fund the construction of homes for senior citizens through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). This will prove vital in the years to come, as increasing numbers of modest to middle-income Canadians retire and start being priced out of the normal rental market. However, with Canada’s population projected to increase at a sharp rate until the middle of the century, we’ll need more than just government intervention to address the issue.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The effects of an aging population on Canada’s own future will be far-reaching, but impossible to predict definitively. That’s not to say we don’t have a good idea of what the likely outcomes are—we’ll need more housing, and we’ll need to be able to support older Canadians, to name two—but nothing about the upcoming decades is written in stone. The manner in which our government addresses social security issues, housing crises, and indeed, which government we even have in power will all play a role in securing stability or uncertainty.

Any speculation on the effects of projected population growth figures should be tempered with the understanding that they’re precisely that: projections. Not everyone agrees with the UN’s assessment of rampant increases, arguing that we might see a return to “normal” population levels towards the end of the century instead of endlessly spiraling into overpopulation. But whatever the outcome, it’s important that we’re paying attention.

Market Smarts: Home Buying Guide

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) is one of Canada’s three mortgage insurers. Beyond insuring mortgage, CMHC also offers consumer guidance in the form of a unique step-by-step guide for home buying Canada, which the organization has dubbed the “roadmap” to home ownership.

The 27-page guide, Homebuying Step By Step is available on CMHC’s website. This guide is a manual for homeownership, breaking down the phases potential buyers will need to consider when looking to get into the housing market.
What Homebuyers Should Know

This guide focuses on preparation being the key to homeownership success, and touches on many things for homeowners to keep in mind. A few good guidelines when considering purchasing a home, including debt management, necessary documents, pre-approval, and more!
Debt-to-Income Ratio

CMHC also recommends that people get pre-approved for a mortgage before they start looking for a home. Getting pre-approved can prevent future roadblocks when you find your dream home, and ensures that subject-to-financing clauses won’t be an issue. It also guarantees the rate for up to 120 days, so that you can access the best mortgage once you’ve found the right home.

The underlying theme of the guide is to prevent Canadians from getting in over their heads in debt when buying a home. This guide also shows just how far mortgage brokers have come in Canada, with them mentioned alongside banks throughout.