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2017: The tipping point for cybersecurity

In today’s society, the digital footprint of both businesses and individuals is increasing dramatically. Although the expansion of this digital landscape has presented exciting opportunities for many, it has also resulted in a growth of the potential attack surface for cyber criminals.

In this digitally changing climate, everything has become a target and anything can be a weapon.  On the front line, we’re seeing cybersecurity threats becoming more intelligent, autonomous and difficult to detect, creating an urgent need for accountability, at multiple levels, in order to avoid detrimental effects for the global digital economy. As cyber threats evolve, so must the way that we react to and deal with them.

The following predictions are from the FortiGuard Labs threat research team, made up of over 200 expert researchers and analysts from around the world who discover, study and protect against the latest cyber threats. Using data collected from more than two million sensors around the globe, they protect more than 290,000 organisations a day.

1. From smart to smarter: automated and human-like attacks will demand more intelligent defence

Until now, the majority of malware has only been programmed with a specific objective or set of objectives. Cybercriminals have counteracted the limits of this by either targeting a specific target or sending vast amounts of malware simultaneously in the hope that it will eventually find itself on a device that it can exploit.

However, in 2017, we predict the development of malware designed to be ‘human-like,’ in the sense that it will be increasingly adaptive, programmed with success-based learning. This new malware, which utilises a code that is a precursor to artificial intelligence, will be situation-aware and therefore able to identify targets, choose methods of attack and, most importantly, avoid detection. As this malware is designed to proactively spread between multiple platforms, attacks will be more efficient with a larger variety of victims.

2. Internet of Things (IoT) manufacturers will be accountable for security breaches

With over 20 billion IoT devices predicted to be online by 2020, an increase in the number of attacks targeting them is inevitable. In the past, cybercriminals have had much success simply exploiting known credentials such as default usernames and passwords. However, our prediction is these attacks will be designed specifically to exploit the weaknesses of the IoT communications and data gathering chain.

If manufacturers do not better protect their devices, then consumers will come to fear cybersecurity threats, will be less likely to purchase them as a result, leaving a potentially devastating effect on the digital economy.

FortiGuard Labs predicts that device manufacturers will be held more accountable for their devices by consumers and vendors alike.

Today, the use of cloud-based computing, storage and processing is rapidly increasing. The weaknesses in cloud-based security do not lie in its architecture. They instead lie in the ever-increasing number of endpoint devices accessing cloud resources.

Cloud security relies upon controlling which devices can access a network and how much they can access. Attacks which exploit endpoint devices, and can target and breach cloud providers, will therefore increase dramatically in 2017. Malware could also be injected into the cloud-based offerings by compromised endpoint devices in a process known as cloud poisoning.

This breach of cloud security could radically affect the current mass migration to the cloud and organisations will, instead, adopt increasingly fabric-based security strategies.

4. Attackers will begin to turn up the heat in smart cities

The essential components of smart cities, such as intelligent traffic control, on-demand streetlights and building automation systems, are all created in an effort to further increase convenience for humans. However, by creating a community that is so interconnected online, you also create a huge surface for potential cyber attacks.

By increasing the number of integrated systems in a city, you also increase the potential for civil disruption on a massive scale if any of them are compromised. FortiGuard Labs predict that, as these systems are considered a high-value target for hackers, attacks are likely to increase.

5. Ransomware attacks will bring higher costs

It’s worth noting that many old threats are returning as slightly different variants. While ransomware is not a new occurrence, the market for it is growing and changing.

Next year will bring an increase of ransomware against high profile targets, such as celebrities, political figures and large organisations. These attacks are likely to include a collection of personal and sensitive data that can be used to blackmail the victim. We also expect the ransom costs for these attacks to get much higher as a result.

Automated attacks will also become more common, as they allow hackers to cost-effectively manage their schemes by demanding a small amount of money from large numbers of victims simultaneously.

6. Technology will have to close the gap on the critical cyber skills shortage

Nowadays, almost any business looking to establish itself needs to be online in some shape or form. However, this growth of online presence is surpassing the number of skilled cybersecurity professionals. Therefore, many organisations establishing themselves online for the first time lack the experience and training to develop a suitable security policy and protect critical assets which now move freely between network environments.

Our final prediction is that this lack of in-house skilled cybersecurity professionals will result in organisations turning to consulting services or security service providers in order to establish and protect themselves online.

The expanding attack surface created by cloud technology and IoT devices, combined with the global shortage of cybersecurity talent continues to drive cyber threats. The pace of these changes is unprecedented; resulting in a critical tipping point as the impact of cyber attacks are felt well beyond their intended victims in personal, political, and business consequences.

Going forward, the need for accountability at multiple levels is urgent. Without swift action, there is a real risk of disrupting the progress of the global digital economy.

Mark Weir, regional director UK&I, Fortinet
Image Credit: Deepadesigns / Shutterstock

With over 25 years of IT experience, Mark Weir has headed up Fortinet’s regional business in the UK & Ireland since April 2016, but has worked with Fortinet since 2014.