How the threat landscape is shaping up in 2016

Over the past year, and particularly the last few months, there has been a stream of data breaches in the headlines. From the TalkTalk breach, where a lack of encryption was a basic error in security strategy, to the VTech breach, which was a warning sign about privacy, security and the Internet of Things – the threat landscape is changing and protection must adapt too.

The year 2016 is set to be an interesting one for cyber security – and could serve as a tipping point in many areas as attacks continue to get more aggressive and destructive. These are the trends that I think will dominate the industry:

1. A self-protecting network could help fill the skills gap

IT security teams are being pulled and pushed in an increasing number of directions as new technology trends and business practices transform IT environments. While many IT teams are honing their skill sets into rapidly growing areas, such as behavioural analytics, it’s important that the security basics aren’t ignored. TalkTalk is a perfect example of where the standard security procedures – such as encryption – weren’t followed. There comes a point, however, where technology needs to play its part too and automated alerts on suspicious behaviour or automatically containing threats can go some way to shoulder the burden.

2. As the home and workplace gets more connected, attackers have more routes to explore

Consumers may not fully understand what the ‘Internet of Things’ means (according to a report from the Altimeter Group), but they sure will if attackers start siphoning off their confidential information as a result of it. Whether it’s a connected toy – as in the VTech breach – or a connected kettle, security vulnerabilities within these devices can provide access to sensitive information. As consumers and businesses begin to realise the significance of this, they will ask more questions about how their information is being collected by vendors and what the impact would be if that vendor was breached. Consumers may also take matters into their own hands to protect themselves, using mobile devices for two-factor authentication, for example. Above all else, those manufacturing devices which are connected to the ‘Internet of Things’ need to ensure that security isn’t an afterthought. It is not acceptable that a connected device is chosen because of the ease and convenience it brings to everyday life or the workplace environment, only to find that the manufacturer hasn’t protected the stored data appropriately.

3. The rise of extortion techniques

Cyber extortion, largely in the form of ransomware, is no new thing, but in 2016 cyber attackers will likely up the ante. Financial information will be targeted and enterprise-wide ransomware will be more common and persistent, continuing to incorporate approaches such as worm-like behaviour and targeting application credentials. As individuals and corporations alike become targets for blackmail associated with cyberattacks, it may add impetus to further evolve and refine the global cyber insurance industry.

4. Physical terrorism meets cyber terrorism with a growing focus on critical infrastructure

There has already been an airline hack to ‘bring a plane down’, indicating what may be on the cards for 2016, and this could materialise in a number of different ways. For example, there may be greater coordination between physical and cyber terrorism; a cyberattack could cause mass confusion, maximising the damage a physical attack could cause. It won’t only be the transport industry either, critical infrastructure is likely to face the biggest threat, due to the disruption and devastation an attack has the potential to cause. The health systems, financial markets and energy grids are all at risk of being compromised in 2016 if they don’t have effective security policies in place.

5. Legislative changes may stifle technology innovation

Cyberattacks are global in their very nature, making more universal legislation an obvious step forward to better protect businesses, and the consumer. There is a balance that needs to be struck, however, between too much government involvement and not enough, to ensure it doesn’t stifle technology advancement. It’s also yet to be proven whether the measures will actually curb malicious activity. Either way, the ball is already rolling on the EU Data Protection Act, EU Network Information Security (NIS) directive, German IT security law and Australian Signals Directorate (ASD), and they will have an impact on security strategies for global companies in 2016.

6. Privacy, encryption and civil liberties

How do we balance keeping citizens safe from terrorists and respecting their privacy rights? The attacks on Paris renewed conversations around Edward Snowden and whether consumers should have access to encryption technology. Opinions still seem to be divided, however, with some expressing a willingness to give up their privacy for increased cyber security, yet others staunchly defending their right to privacy. It will be interesting to see how this debate progresses in 2016, which could even become the year of greater civil liberties curtailment.

7. The Manchurian Candidate

Data breaches typically lead to one question, ‘what did they steal?’ But 2016 could be the year that we start asking, ‘what was put INTO our systems?’ The data breaches that have hit the headlines time and time again in 2015, could be revealed to have caused even greater damage than was first thought. We may even find that a spy, terrorist or other government actor was actually vetted and approved based on information ADDED during a breach, enabling them to inflict more damage, undetected.

Matt Middleton-Leal, regional director for UK & Ireland at CyberArk

Image Credit: Sergey Nivens / Shutterstock