Protecting Your Reputation Requires Having the Entire Web at Your Fingertips

September 24, 2020

In the wake of the unprecedented ‘FinCEN Files’ data leak of over 2,100 suspicious activity reports (SARs) and confidential bank documents to media outlets all over the world, at least 10 multinational banks are now feeling the heat.

These SARs were obtained by Buzzfeed, which shared the legally questionable leak of Financial Crimes Enforcement Network documents with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and 110 news organizations worldwide. Suspicious transaction volumes flagged by these SARs amounted to just over $2 trillion, with a single European financial institution (FI) accounting for 65 percent of potentially illicit financial flows.

Even though the scoop is limited to suspicious activity that occurred between 1999 and 2017, and probes financial crimes, most of which, have already been adjudicated by the U.S. Department of Justice and other regulators, these reopened wounds have created new attack vectors to impugn the reputations of banks.

Consider that just 24 hours after the initial media reports by the ICIJ and Buzzfeed, at least five banks named in the FinCEN leak have seen their shares prices tumble by 3-to-7 percent.

Navigating an era marked by historic geopolitical instability, where now even the most secure regulatory data can be obtained and weaponized by threat-actors to sabotage target entities through the press, FIs must now take a proactive approach that goes beyond simple data-loss prevention. Enter web intelligence, or WEBINT.

What is WEBINT?  

Coined by a trio of academic researchers in Asia and Canada 20-years ago, WEBINT is a term that refers to the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and advanced information technologies to mine insight from the Internet.

But two decades later, data has become more high-dimensional than anybody could have ever imagined, proliferating in volume, velocity, and variety by the second. Today, the indexing and synthesis of this complex, high-dimensional big data (HDBD) deluge into actionable, protective intelligence offers FIs a reputational life preserver in the post-MossFon (Mossack Fonseca, the disgraced Panama-based firm at the center of the “Panama Papers” dataleak)  era of what have been branded by affected institutions as “weaponized” information leaks.

Leveraging the power of AI, advanced data mining, and aggregation, automation, and real-time analytics, modern WEBINT solutions enable FIs to effortlessly achieve a three-dimensional view of their customer risk exposures from surface, deep, and dark web portals.

Beyond personal information trawled via surface browser queries, social network commentary extracted from the depths, and possible sightings on the dark web, today’s WEBINT tools can also scrape less obvious digital fingerprints.

These alternative identifiers include publicly-available phone numbers, company registration data, email addresses, IP addresses, time stamps, serial numbers, web plugins, browser information, and other cyber-forensics mined from the most obscure reaches of known user devices.

Three Advantages

In the aftermath of an unprecedented data governance breach at FinCEN, the most venerable financial intelligence unit in the world, WEBINT can help FIs safeguard their reputations in three fundamental ways:

  • Client Portfolio Monitoring
  • Institutional Brand Sentiment
  • Single Source of Truth

In the first case, a high-performance WEBINT tool equips firms with the ability to autonomously monitor their entire portfolio of client relationships in real-time. If a client’s name were to surface in a news report about a FinCEN Files-related laundering scandal, for example, a tier-one WEBINT solution would be able to immediately flag that data point.

But even more resourceful, today’s WEBINT technologies enable FIs to program rule alerts that automatically flag client names when they emerge in adverse news reports or other content feeds throughout the web in unflattering contexts related to specified keywords like the ‘FinCEN Files.’ All of this uses publicly-available data which means that Data Compliance concerns are put down immediately.

Another key advantage of WEBINT adoption for FIs, is the ability to monitor brand sentiment in real-time. Say one of the 10 institutions tarnished by the FinCEN leaks identified chatter where journalists or social media users were defaming them as a ‘laundromat,’ or as a haven for terrorism finance, as an example.

The right WEBINT technology provider will enable client firms to be notified that their reputation is being attacked, enabling them to devise agile, strategic-communications counter-offensives via public relations, paid media, and other channels.

Lastly, all of this multi-dimensional, real-time data scraping and aggregation can be devoid of meaning if not communicated clearly, holistically, and intuitively to end-users. As such, financial firms should seek out WEBINT providers that enrich user dashboards with data visualizations and risk-scoring advisories to present intelligence as unambiguously and accessibly as possible.

The “Devil” is in the Data

As the financial industry reckons with the impact of the FinCEN Files – and more broadly – with the new normal of weaponized information leaks, firms must be hyper-vigilante in complying with know your customer (KYC) regimes.

Cobwebs is a market-leading provider in the public sector which has now operationalized its solution for the financial sector, including artificial intelligence, automation, and real-time monitoring to help financial firms mitigate KYC risk exposures and safeguard their reputations from adversarial media.

As reputational fallout from the FinCEN Files begins to resonate in bank share prices, Cobwebs can help institutions find the devil in the data and de-risk toxic relationships that have become unbankable in a new era of sometimes extreme transparency and unpredictable data leaks.

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