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Bank of England calls for lenders to shore up cyber defenses

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(Reuters) — Britain's banks must do more to protect themselves and the wider financial system from growing and evolving cyber crime, the Bank of England said Friday.

Worried by the increasing rate of attacks on banks by Internet hacks, the bank surveyed 36 financial firms and banks in Britain and found no immediate critical shortcomings in their defenses.

"But they did point to areas for improvement that we will be following up on with firms," Andrew Gracie, an executive director at the Bank of England in charge of winding down failed lenders, told a Cyber Defense and Security Network conference.

Britain has already conducted cyber attack simulation exercises such as Waking Shark to test responses.

A joint testing program between the U.S. and U.K. governments and authorities will start this year.

Mr. Gracie suggested that banks were still fighting the last war to some extent, such as protecting physical locations.

"These still matter. But cyber changes the game. Cyber is a dynamic, intelligent and adaptive threat. In the cyber arms race, costs are stacked in favor of the attacker, not the defender," Mr. Gracie said.

He said banks must invest in ways to identify threats and cyber attacks, a task that should not be left just to junior "technologists."

"All parts of an organization need to understand cyber risk and their responsibilities towards improved cyber hygiene. This includes board-level engagement," Mr. Gracie said.

Craig Balding, group head of cyber risk at Barclays P.L.C., said the bank was evolving its approach to cyber risk, making a distinction between cyber and technology systems.

"Cyber has the attention of our board, no question about it," he told the conference. "I don't know if we can ever be ahead of the threat as a commercial organization."

Mr. Gracie said banks were already spending significant amounts of money on building their defenses but they were not testing them on a regular basis.

To help banks improve their resilience, the Bank of England would help them share information, Mr. Gracie said.

"We don't laugh when somebody else is getting hacked," Mr. Balding said.