Cyber Security Trends and Threats to Watch for in 2018

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@andyoheikkilaAndy O. Heikkila

As more of our physical world becomes digital, crime that was once rooted in “the real world” will become prevalent in cyberspace. From thousands of wordpress sites hacked, to malware spread via fake cellphone towers, 2017 saw a myriad of devastating cyber attacks and hacks.

Because preventing damage from these threats means preparing for them in the first place, it’s essential to probe the past as well as ponder the future of cyber security trends and threats. Here the six areas that I think will prove huge in 2018.

Reign of Ransomware

In the last couple of years, ransomware has become a major headline grabber. In 2017 alone, ransomware growth topped 2,500 percent, hitting hospitals, private businesses, and individual users alike. Michael Nuncic with Kroll Ontrack reports that ransomware has even begun spreading to Mac, Linux, and Android/iOS smartphones.

“Until recently, Windows PCs were hit primarily by attacks with ransomware,” he writes, “[but] now hackers are also targeting Macs and Linux PCs. More recently smartphones or tablets with an Android or IOS operating system became a target, too.”

Unfortunately, the reign of ransomware is far from over. Most industry experts agree that this type of malware will remain prevalent through 2018.

Big Breaches in Big Data and Malware in the Cloud

Not only will ransomware likely continue to reign terror on the world, it will likely do so from the cloud. Because cloud computing businesses store huge amounts of data for companies, they actually make prime targets for cybercriminals.

“While the biggest and oldest cloud service providers such as Google, Amazon, and IBM have the resources and experience to make it difficult for attackers to succeed, the MIT Review points out the smaller cloud providers are likely to be more vulnerable and more likely to pay up if customer data were encrypted and held for ransom,” writes Warwick Ashford for Computer Weekly.

This never-ending fight for big data caches all but ensures that we will continue to see data breaches to the degree of 2017’s Equifax breach. If we look back to the end of 2014, 500 million records and 1.2 billion emails addresses and usernames had been exposed by data breaches, according to the University of Alabama Birmingham’s Collat School of Business. By July 2017, Risk Based Security reports that number being closer to 6 million records, and that’s only halfway through the year.

IoT, DDoS, and Botnets

The growth of the Internet of Things (IoT) has been phenomenal for innovation. As Ohio University’s online resources point out, the IoT alone has played a humongous part in transportation route planning, accident prevention, safety, and even the development of the autonomous car. In our homes, the rise of Alexa, Cortana, and Siri home devices have simplified ordering and ushered in a new era of voice control. Smart fridges, toasters, and homes — almost everything is “smart” and connected to the internet nowadays. The bad news is that every connection is a doorway, and that’s exactly what attackers are looking for.

In 2016, hackers used an army of connected web of devices to shut down the internet in major parts of the US, in what has now been called the Dyn DDoS Attack. Because many IoT products are manufactured with poor security, they become easy targets for deploying malicious software … and when you coordinate an attack between a million of them, the results can be catastrophic.

It’s predicted that these coordinated “botnets” will become more commonplace, especially with unsecured IoT devices. They may not all attack for DDoS purpose, and they may never make their presence known at all. Some programs exist simply to siphon CPU power for mining cryptocurrencies.

Spam, Phishing, and Social Engineering

What many people don’t know is that one of the leading causes of data breach (since 2015, if you can believe it) is human error. CSO columnist Roger Grimes has suggested that unpatched software and social engineering can be attributed to 100 percent of attacks, stating that “a single unpatched software program has at times accounted for over 90 percent of the web-based exploits.” The other 10 percent, save perhaps one, can be attributed to social engineering.

Social engineering will continue to grow more and more complex. Eva Velasquez, writing for Intuit’s Firm of the Future blog, explains how scammers might use a major data breach in the news to get at your company’s data:

“Following big events like these, cybercriminals, generally unrelated to those who committed the initial act, will often begin to send out emails en masse, posing as your financial institution and asking for your personally identifying information (PII),” writes Vasquez. “Even those who would otherwise be leery of a phishing email may do a quick Google search to see if their bank had suffered from the attack and may find one of the many stories making headlines. The scammers know that these stories will help convince consumers that their financial institution has suffered from a breach, and they will, therefore, be more likely to go ahead with the process.”

We should expect to see even more attacks like these as time goes on. Fortunately, the problem of human fallibility may have a budding solution in the form of Artificial Intelligence (AI).

A.I.: The Next Line of Defense

Traditionally, cybersecurity has been about the “fortress metaphor,” whereby intruders are kept at bay by building high walls and deep moats. Unfortunately, the reality of the world we live in now means that no matter how high the wall, malicious actors can simply build a higher ladder — or hire somebody to do it for them.

As such, the industry is in need of a new approach and a new metaphor. This is where the concept of an immune system comes in, and where Darktrace CEO Nicole Eagan believes cybersec is headed.

“The big challenge that the whole security industry and the chief security officers have right now is that they’re always chasing yesterday’s attack,” she says in an interview with Wired. “That is kind of the mindset the whole industry has — that if you analyze yesterday’s attack on someone else, you can help predict and prevent tomorrow’s attack on you. It’s flawed, because the attackers keep changing the attack vector. Yet companies have spent so much money on tools predicated on that false premise. Our approach is fundamentally different: This is just learning in real time what’s going on, and using AI to recommend actions to take, even if the attack’s never been seen before. That’s the big transition that Darktrace is trying to get folks… to make: to be in the position of planning forward strategically about cyber risk, not reacting to the past.”

AI cybersecurity essentially uses machine learning to learn the “norm” of any given system, and then consistently runs checks to see if there’s any deviation from that norm. In this way, enterprises breach updates in real time, and can react appropriately. Of course, some things are simply too valuable to take a chance with, even with an ever-vigilant, artificially intelligent sentinel.

Cyber Warfare, Election Hacking, and Blockchain Legislation

For cases where security is an absolute must, security proponents need look no further than the blockchain. The same technology that began the cryptocurrency craze of 2017 is understandably very secure, and it’s been proposed that new privacy, security, and password standards — let alone entire social networks — could be built upon it. Derek B. Johnson, writing for FCW, believes these security measures may even find themselves in use by the US government before 2018 is over.

If Ward Solutions is correct, the US government will have to step up its cybersecurity game, because we’re on the brink of all-out cyberwarfare.

According to Business and Finance, the CEO of Ward Solutions, Pat Larkin, said: “2018 will see cybersecurity threats increase further in sophistication and the amount of damage that they can potentially cause. Furthermore, as state-sponsored groups increase their attacks on countries’ national infrastructures, civilians could begin to suffer as essential services come under strain… Continued attacks on nations by cybercriminals will build legitimacy for national cyber response teams, and 2018 marks the tipping point when those targeted nations escalate their response to cyberattacks, which they now classify an act of war. Cyberattacks represent a very real threat to national security, and so expect countries to devise official coordinated defensive responses, utilising both cyber and physical, military force to protect their interests.”

Election hacking is only the beginning. Physical infrastructure could actually be damaged, as proven by the Stuxnet virus in 2010, and entire city grids could be shut down, a la Die Hard 4. Expect legislations and government involvement in the coming year.



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