Help AG, the cybersecurity arm of Etisalat Digital, provides leading enterprise businesses across the Middle East with strategic consultancy combined with tailored information security solutions and services that address their diverse requirements, enabling them to evolve securely with a competitive edge. Headquartered in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Help AG has been present in the Middle East since 2004 and is firmly established as the region’s trusted advisor. The Fintech Times speaks with Nicolai Solling, who is the Chief Technology Officer at Help AG.
Solling has been in the IT and network industry for over 20 years. In his role as CTO of Help AG, he is responsible for overseeing Help AG’s professional services, support services, and technical vendor management across the region. Since joining Help AG in 2008, Solling has successfully grown the technical team by more than 200% and has been heavily involved in the design, deployment, and operation of some of the most challenging network and security infrastructures for enterprise customers across a variety of industry sectors.
What has been the traditional Help AG response to financial technology innovations, in terms of securing these innovations?
The financial sector has always been a major focus area for Help AG due to the risk-averse nature of financial organisations and the specific requirements they need to have fulfilled to ensure their security, especially in light of digital transformation. Help AG recognizes the critical importance of securing the huge amounts of sensitive data that go into fintech as organizations in the financial sector face a higher risk of experiencing a cyberattack.
Traditionally, Help AG has offered services such as penetration testing, red teaming, endpoint security assessment, managed detection and response, etc. to protect fintech innovations. We have been an early advocator of email security and have focused on implementing application security and enabling a secure cloud journey for financial organizations looking into utilizing public and private clouds and cloud compute technologies such as container-based services and micro-based services.
Help AG has also established strong partnerships with reputable vendors to offer valuable technologies that further boost the security posture of financial organizations, such as Palo Alto Networks’ cloud security capabilities, F5’s application firewalls, ShiftLeft’s focus on securing the application code, and Aviatrix’s solutions which emphasise creating a secure network fabric for your cloud environment whether it is on-prem or the public cloud.
By having rightly skilled talent and continuously broadening its capabilities, Help AG is able to articulate the value of these technologies and offer them within the market successfully. One of our major success cases within the financial industry is our involvement in the creation and implementation of Dubai Financial Services Authority’s (DFSA) Managed Threat Intelligence Platform (TIP) which enables it to advise its members in a timely manner in case of a malicious activity.
How has this changed over the past few years?
Help AG has recognised the rising importance of financial technology in business and has accordingly:
- Bolstered fintech security offerings by partnering with world-class vendors, including Proofpoint, which offers solutions that help protect applications and manage email threats like Business Email Compromise (BEC).
- Enhanced expertise by training consultants on fintech cybersecurity applications.
- Developed expertise in integrating fintech security as part of an organization’s enterprise security strategy. This is important as more and more institutions adopt fintech.
Help AG has also recognized the role fintech often plays in organisations’ digital transformation, particularly financial organisations, and has established itself as a key enabler of secure, seamless and effective digital transformation for its customers, both in the financial sector and across other industry verticals.
When it comes to data privacy, banks deal with different types of regulations on a local and a global scale, such as GDPR. Our strategic consulting team’s expertise and skillset allow them to guide customers on how they are impacted by these governance frameworks which keep increasing in number and complexity. It also enables them to actively assist financial organizations to comply with regulatory frameworks, especially as they move increasingly towards the usage of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technologies.
Also, to address the increasing importance of accessible, actionable threat intelligence, Help AG has assisted the Dubai Financial Services Authority (DFSA) in its initiative to support the UAE’s cybersecurity strategy through its involvement in the creation and management of the first financial regulator-led Managed Threat Intelligence Platform (TIP) in the region. Help AG has further strengthened its ability to meet customer needs in today’s digital world by incorporating automation and AI technologies into its comprehensive portfolio through entering into a strategic partnership with SECURITI.ai, which deploys big data analytics and machine learning capabilities to ensure data is managed and cleared securely with minimal human intervention.
Is there anything that has created a culture of change inside Help AG?
Increased awareness of the innovative, ever-evolving nature of fintech has only reinforced the importance of cybersecurity and the necessity of treating it as an integral part of every digital transformation initiative taken by organizations.
Help AG has been a pioneer when it comes to introducing new technologies and is committed to upgrading and honing its customers’ capabilities to enable their secure digital transformation.
In addition, to stay ahead of the curve, Help AG takes a predictive rather than a reactive approach to market conditions. This specifically enhances our hiring process as it impacts the skillset we look for in cybersecurity talent. For example, we have been increasingly hiring experts with skills in DevOps and microservices security architecture.
Another notable aspect that has been contributing to creating a culture of change is Help AG’s service-centric business evolution, which makes sure we understand customers’ needs better and provide them with tailored services that have the required technology embedded.
What fintech ideas have been implemented in Help AG?
Help AG utilizes digital transformation capabilities not only for its customers but also for its business, using private and public cloud while aiming to limit the footprint of its on-prem data centre by migrating services into the cloud and implementing the right security controls to ensure their safety. Moreover, Help AG’s pen testing team is constantly assessing fintech and e-commerce applications to ensure organizations stay safe.
What benefits have these brought?
Digital transformation has increased agility and scalability for Help AG. By using the power of cloud and automation, we have been able to scale up significantly without needing to increase backend personnel. This has brought in increased efficiencies, which ultimately facilitates sustainable growth.
Do you see any other industry challenges on the horizon?
A possible increase in ransomware attacks is anticipated. Ransomware that targets user devices and clouds can threaten infrastructure, resulting in significant insurance losses. Our research has also uncovered a significant increase in carding, the illegal usage of a credit or debit card by unauthorised individuals to buy a product. Help AG found a 500% jump in risk alerts for carding between 2019 and 2020.
Furthermore, the evolution of consumer needs has led to new digital habits, hence leading to an increase in e-commerce and application development. Cybersecurity needs to keep pace with the increase in e-commerce; rapid digitization in commerce brings concerns regarding authentication, the security of sensitive data, etc. Help AG is a frontrunner in ensuring security is a day-zero consideration while new applications are developed and released for large scale usage.
In addition, COVID-19 has accelerated the pace of cloud adoption and digital transformation like never before. This introduces cybersecurity challenges that require fundamental shifts in an organization’s security approach. With our secure cloud enablement strategy and continuing focus on security automation, we are empowering a secure transformation journey for enterprises and governments. To further secure digitalization efforts, we launched our Help AG Secure Private Access (HPA) service – a scalable and locally delivered Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) service providing businesses with holistic security, visibility and control across environments.
Impending industry challenges also include an increase in Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks. Our research has revealed that the region has been witnessing a tremendous growth in DDoS attacks – in frequency, volume, new attack vectors and multifaceted tactics. This growth is expected to increase as people worldwide continue working remotely, relying on VPNs, and using unsecure networks and devices. To safeguard its clients, Help AG operates a round-the-clock Managed DDoS Protection Service, which offers volumetric and application layer attack protection and deep traffic visibility and reporting.
The other challenges that the industry will have to brace for include increases in phishing, data breaches, third-party security risks, application security risks, and the usage of unsecure electronic gadgets and Internet of Things (IoT) devices to conduct transactions. Consequently, the regulation of the fintech industry and financial entities is bound to increase, which will lead to changes in financial services and how we deal with their providers
Can these challenges be aided by fintech?
Digital transformation is changing risks, as theft turns from being physical to digital. However, blockchain technology enables all digital transactions to be traced which serves as an advantage against cybercriminals. Blockchain may also be useful in warding off ransomware attacks.
Some fintech applications can help increase data security, lessening the chances of card information being leaked or stolen, while other fintech applications can help increase cybersecurity in eCommerce, e.g. digital identities.
AI-driven fintech is critical in ensuring compliance with the GDPR framework, which protects the customer’s data and supports their right to be forgotten, by ensuring data privacy through automated processes with the least human intervention possible. This is where our partnership with SECURITI.ai plays a vital role, providing data protection through automation.
Fintech is an innovative, thriving industry that will only become more and more important with time, whether for financial institutions like banks or institutions in other sectors. It is crucial that cybersecurity is tightly integrated into every step of fintech innovation to secure sensitive data and transactions and avoid incurring financial losses. Without dynamic cybersecurity solutions, organisations that utilize fintech will put themselves at risk of cyberattack, possibly resulting in reputational damage, business disruption, and fraud.
Help AG is the biggest cybersecurity service provider in the region, with an experience that spans over 25 years. Powered by Etisalat, we are enviably positioned as the strongest force in the field of digital security – in terms of the number of qualified experts, digital domain expertise and financial flexibility.