FIX Releases Cybersecurity Guidelines

The guidelines recommend authentication methods to use TLS protocols with FIX.

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The FIX Trading Community released new cybersecurity guidelines for FIX-over-TLS (FIXS) standards after concerns were raised over the vulnerability of the Financial Information Exchange (FIX) protocol.

FIX—a standard messaging language for most asset classes—set up a subgroup of the Cybersecurity Working Group to develop technical standards for using the Transport Layer Security (TLS) protocol. Discussions started in 2015 with the final guidelines opening up for public comment in July 2017. The group said FIXS is part of a larger project to address cybersecurity concerns expressed by the community.

Charles Kilkenny, chief executive officer of Actuare and chairman of the FIXS subgroup that worked on the guidelines, says the guidelines are a starting point for firms to add more security.

FIXs is one of many controls which firms may want to consider when mitigating risk. It resulted in an opportunity within the FIX Cybersecurity Working Group to help make the use of TLS more straightforward for firms,” Kilkenny says. “The work of the FIX Cybersecurity Working Group is much broader though, covering everything from regulatory input to what are the common risks for firms to best of breed controls and learning from accepted information security frameworks. As a result, the collaboration and output of the group is much wider.”

The guidelines lay out how companies can use the TLS protocol, used to secure messages between servers, with FIX and maintain at least a minimum level of security. 

“The standard first concentrates on possible methods to authenticate the parties connecting to one another,” according to the guidelines. “It then goes into the different aspects of each authentication method as well as the different protocol options and what is recommended.”

The guidelines recommend different authentication methods, protocol options, and cipher suites but do not prevent firms to use additional security policies.

Michael Cooper, chief technology officer for Radianz at BT Global Banking and Financial Markets and chairman of the working group, says cybersecurity posed a significant challenge for companies so it was important that the group allows for options in addressing it.

“There are several inherent challenges in addressing cybersecurity – not least being the increasingly broad attack surface we expose in an increasingly electronic and digital world, so where to focus, in what order and to what degree? Part of this is risk analysis – understanding not only what and where the risk is, but enabling sensitivity for an individual or organisation’s own assessment and appetite, understanding trade-offs and providing optionality – we are a community and there will be differences,” Cooper says. “That aspect is also one of the key advantages we have, as a community we have access to and communicate with a diverse group with a wide range of experience, skills and perspectives. But the perhaps the biggest challenge is the constancy and pervasiveness of the threat, we have designed our response to evolve as the threat evolves – this isn’t a threat that is binary and we will need to maintain currency as a consequence.”

The working group noted the guidelines can be updated based on industry feedback. FIX was unable to provide additional comment in time for publication.

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