The next generation of cyber security threats
Luke Brown, GM and VP, EMEA, India and LATAM at Digital Guardian
I am sure most of us in the cyber security community were happy to flip the calendar to 2016 for obvious reasons! Given what we witnessed in 2015, while cloud, mobile and IoT will continue to dominate the discussion in many boardrooms, it is actually security that should be close to the top of the priority list for any CIO. To that end, it is worth understanding some of the factors that will shape the cyber security threat landscape.
1. An increase in wiper attacks
Wiper attacks, which erase files from the victim’s computer drives in order to cripple essential apps, have been growing steadily for years. A wiper attack will not only damage the users IT systems, but can leave sensitive data exposed. Sony have been the most prolific organisation to suffer this kind of attack to date, however as these kinds of hacks become easier, businesses of all sizes must be prepared to protect against them.
Investing in security is essential for any modern business, however it will only be effective if they invest in the right areas. Focusing on endpoint protection, disaster recovery and backup applications that can be easily scaled will significantly reduce the chance of wiper attacks causing lasting harm.
2. Hacktivism will be the motive behind many more incidents
High profile data breaches such as the TalkTalk, Ashley Madison and Experian hacks have been extremely damaging for the companies involved and brought cyber security to the forefront of every business-owner’s mind. Many of these attacks have been blamed on a rise in ‘hacktivism’. Self-proclaimed ‘hacktivists’ will attack companies for a variety of reasons, the most common of these being:
- Ethics: To place the spotlight on and expose a company engaging in morally questionable practices
- Opposing values: As a result of fundamental differences in the values held by the attacking group and the organisation being hacked
- Monetary gain: To extort victims for monetary gain in an effort to cripple the target organisation and fund the hacktivist’s causes
Part of the reason these attacks are becoming more widespread is the fact that they are far easier to carry out than they were just a couple of years ago. With hacking tools readily available to those who know where to look, the resources required to stage a high-profile attack are dangerously easy to find and implement.
The rise of nationalism in countries like Russia, Iraq and Syria is also likely to have an effect. Nationalist and terrorist groups will use these publicly available tools to make public statements and intimidate corporations with conflicting values – attacking freedom of speech, the film industry and the literary community. As information becomes more valuable with every passing year, there is a lot at stake not just for the information security industry, but for the world as a whole. This is why companies must do everything they can to research and implement a data protection solution that is designed to combat these new attacks.
3. Social engineering attacks will rise in the wake of 2015 breaches
Hundreds of thousands of customer details were leaked as a result of the 2015 data breaches. This data is most valuable to hackers before the leak is discovered and made public, when it becomes much harder to sell off or act without attracting attention. However, even after the breach is discovered, this information is still out there, still accessible, and is often used in a second wave of attacks to target the victims themselves many months later.
Hackers will often bombard breached email addresses with phishing attacks in an attempt to gain access to more of their personal details. By impersonating banks, retail companies and government agencies, the attacker will try to trick users into sending them money or personal information. These imitations are becoming more convincing, with hackers explaining to users that they are vulnerable to an attack and must change their details immediately by handing them over in some way.
If enough information is still available, hackers could also attempt to access the email accounts themselves using other details that have been leaked such as dates of birth. In some cases, malicious users could even try to access the victim’s bank accounts directly using leaked account details. There is a new wave of organised crime happening online worth billions of dirhams, and it’s growing exponentially.
4. Additional cyber threats will continue to be discovered in the Internet of Things
The Internet of Things (IoT) is developing at an unprecedented pace. With an incredibly broad spectrum of uses across a plethora of sectors, a ‘smart world’ is not simply the stuff of science fiction. These IoT devices are populating every aspect of our lives and it’s important to understand that this leaves people vulnerable in ways that haven’t been a problem before.
Smart homes, for example, offer convenient solutions for busy residents looking to save time and money, but smart tech companies must ensure it is not to the detriment of the user’s security. Devices such as smart electricity meters or thermostats could moderate power consumption and room temperatures based on when the residents are out. However if criminals were to access the network that these devices communicate through, this data could be used to plan a break-in.
There are three main entry points when it comes to IoT devices. Firstly, attackers can hack the service provider, gaining database information that gives them access to data such as smart meter readings. Secondly, it is possible to break in through the wireless protocols between the devices, which are inherently insecure due to the low quality routers often supplied with home Wi-Fi packages. The vulnerable ISP boxes are reverse engineered for security, and give easy access to the consumer’s network. Finally, hackers could directly infiltrate the infrastructure. This however is far more difficult that the other two methods and so is unlikely to occur as frequently.
(Re)solutions – combatting the threats
Cyber attacks are not going away anytime soon and one can make the argument that on the contrary, these attacks are only going to grow in number and sophistication in 2016 and beyond. Against this backdrop, it is imperative that CIOs take more responsibility when it comes to data theft – leaving security vulnerabilities solely to the IT team is no longer excusable as data theft continues to be a prominent issue. Threat intelligent services are likely to be commissioned to provide reports and validation on malicious threats. The increase in the power and safety of the cloud will also give SMEs a chance to move from relatively weak IT infrastructures to a platform where security is evolving constantly. Ultimately, the focus on data protection is going to be paramount for businesses heading into 2016, and it’s up to them to ensure that they are prepared.