We have become accustomed to getting the same basic security advice year after year, and frankly, the lack of novelty in this regard is somewhat tiresome. IT professionals invariably tell us not to reuse passwords, to refrain from accessing online accounts from public computers, and not to fall for scams where an “ex-prince” asks for assistance with a money transfer. These recommendations resemble a series of dull echoes every time we hear them.
For businesses, the stakes are higher, and the threat landscape is far more dynamic than it is for regular users. As such, failing to evolve in terms of enterprise security is a very slippery slope.
The flip side of the ever-increasing global Internet penetration rate and the growing sophistication of technologies around us is that cyber-attacks are rapidly mutating to take up the challenge. Under the circumstances, security experts need to employ proactive defense mechanisms and use their toolkits to the fullest to keep attackers at bay.
Let’s take a dive into the most prominent cybersecurity trends in 2019.
1. Security awareness is reaching new heights
The steadily rising Internet penetration gives crooks a bevy of opportunities to compromise devices and online accounts. It comes as no surprise that this issue has been on the agenda of InfoSec specialists for a long time. Thankfully, lots of users aren’t as susceptible to exploitation as they were a few years ago, with the overall security awareness having seen a significant boost due to a number of factors.
First, the Snowden story and frequent reports about data breaches and large-scale malware outbreaks have caused users to treat the security of their personal information more seriously. Second, numerous state-sponsored cyberattacks have been regularly hitting the headlines over the past years. These controversial initiatives appear to be aimed at misinforming society or causing some form of sabotage.
The fact that people know about these issues is definitely a good thing. In addition, there are plenty of projects underway with the goals of helping users harden the protection of their personal data and get the hang of online security fundamentals.
2. The Internet of Things is a sensitive subject
Organizations and governments are constantly coming up with new ways to lend users a helping hand in terms of cybersecurity. Most of these projects revolve around a principle that online security is a multi-pronged matter spanning simple but significant tweaks in users’ behavior and habits.
Meanwhile, businesses and public organizations often fail to admit that there are security flaws in the technologies they are investing in. For example, companies are encouraging users to become hyperconnected, which could well be one of the reasons for the overall increase in the number of data leaks and cybercrime campaigns.
Whereas these issues are increasingly coming to the fore, few people realize why exactly this is happening. For instance, you can hardly find any side effects of redundant connectivity being discussed. The common opinion is that the more intensely users interact with electronic platforms, the better for society. Both governments and organizations seem to be reluctant to accept the opposite perspective.
A lot of information security professionals consider the Internet of Things (IoT) to be low-hanging fruit. The appropriate government agencies are adopting special regulations in light of the ongoing technological evolution. For example, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) of Great Britain has recently issued recommendations for IoT companies to implement certain security standards.
According to rough estimates, there are currently about 30 to 50 billion IoT devices in the world. All of them are connected to the Internet and have software on board. Essentially, these are mini-systems, most of which are easy to exploit. If these smart entities undergo massive cyber-attacks, then both enterprises and people’s homes will be at risk.
Given the rapidly growing number of these devices, government agencies will need to have an agile strategy in place to efficiently address different IoT security challenges. To get on the hype train and make more money in this niche, manufacturers are producing smart devices at a mind-blowing rate, often neglecting security protocols and lacking the appropriate infrastructure to ensure decent protection of their products.
Considering that the security of mainstream IoT devices is notoriously poor, the defenses – rather than quick profits – should have been the highest priority in the first place. However, it appears that regulators have missed the boat. As a result, governments are now busy mitigating the risks to existing systems while trying to incentivize vendors to give their security practices an overhaul.
3. There aren’t enough workers to fill the void
The enormous scope of the IoT industry prevents many organizations from addressing the numerous emerging threats. However, the spike in the number of attacks doesn’t necessarily mean that more crooks are perpetrating them. The above-mentioned hyperconnectivity, combined with the rise of IoT, makes it easier for hackers to create botnets based on compromised systems. Common sources of such compromise include malware activity, scarce defenses, and weak admin passwords.
It’s difficult to predict the scale of attacks leveraging hacked IoT devices. It’s beyond all doubt, though, that numerous companies have already suffered the consequences of different forms of such cyber-attacks.
Businesses are trying to automate their defenses because they are experiencing a serious security talent gap. Even if you have huge financial resources at your disposal, hiring a good security professional is easier said than done. There are very few of them.
A proper level of cybersecurity is hard to reach these days. Being able to simply remove malicious code like that of ransomware from systems doesn’t do the trick anymore. Even if the virus is gone, files encrypted by ransomware are still inaccessible. So, various new digital challenges are being interwoven with our daily security routine, redefining the criteria a security expert must meet.
Organizations are currently confronted with a lack of specialists who are capable of designing and maintaining complex computer networks and systems. And this is compounded by the fact that the scope of the work is broadening. Not only does an expert need to understand how technologies work, but he or she must also be able to analyze the economic, social, and political facets of cybersecurity and generate effective long-term strategies and policies in this context.
4. AI represents another element of the security equation
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the talk of the InfoSec town nowadays. Organizations that need to safeguard their digital infrastructure against malware, DDoS attacks, and other perils are tuned for this discussion, too.
As previously mentioned, lots of companies are constantly fending off different types of cyber-attacks. To succeed in this regard, they are building multi-layered protection systems and engage both employees and AI-based instruments. Things aren’t as simple as they may appear, though.
Most of these companies have no choice but to deploy AI systems because humans are physically incapable of handling such a massive flow of attacks and alerts. Automation is shaping up to be truly crucial in this realm. Many organizations identify and thwart 7 out of 10 attacks. With this rate in place, relying on the efforts of security personnel alone is impractical. We will most likely switch to using fully automated security systems at some point.
However, humans need to supervise AI adoption in its early stages, and this doesn’t only apply to cybersecurity. This seems obvious, but there is a caveat. When rushing headlong into the implementation of new technologies, people run the risk of missing pitfalls that may manifest themselves at a later point and disrupt the functioning of an ostensibly flawless machine-learning algorithm.
What does the future of a specific technology hold? It’s hardly possible to answer this question in general, but artificial intelligence boasts significant potential. That being said, the security posture and vigilance of the organizations that intend to leverage AI is an important factor to consider.
If companies readily learn the ins and outs of using and maintaining these systems, then the security of the global information infrastructure might get a boost.
5. There is greater government involvement in cybersecurity
With reports about state-funded cyber-attacks appearing in the news once in a while, users are increasingly concerned about their national cybersecurity. What is the role of the government in this whole paradigm?
Governments and affiliated institutions are looking for ways to sabotage other states’ infrastructure by means of cyber-attacks. These kinds of experiments are extremely dangerous, especially for the targeted entities that have to attempt to fend off these raids. At the very least, Western countries are known to be preparing for such a scenario.
The number of state-funded attacks is growing, and there are quite a few official reports about a spike in such activity originating in Russia and China. Nonetheless, the scope of incursions operated by cybercrooks seeking financial gain is larger than that of state-funded attacks. As such, although these attacks are being heavily discussed, other sources of cybercrime continue to be a primary concern for businesses and public sector organizations.
Author’s Bio: David Balaban is a computer security researcher with over 15 years of experience in malware analysis and antivirus software evaluation. David runs the Privacy-PC.com project which presents expert opinions on the contemporary information security matters, including social engineering, penetration testing, threat intelligence, online privacy and white hat hacking.