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How organisations can keep their cybersecurity resolutions in 2020

(Image credit: Image Credit: Maksim Kabakou / Shutterstock)

In the year ahead, organisations must prepare for the unknown, so they have the flexibility to endure unexpected and high impact security events. To take advantage of emerging trends in both technology and cyberspace, businesses need to manage risks in ways beyond those traditionally handled by the information security function, since innovative attacks will most certainly impact both business reputation and shareholder value.

After reviewing the current threat landscape, there are three dominant security threats that businesses need to prepare for in 2020. These include, but are not limited to:

  • The race for technology dominance – trade and government
  • Third parties, internet of things (IoT) and the cloud – the emerging threat landscape
  • Cybercrime – criminals, nation states and the insider

You can find an overview for each of these areas below:

The race for technology dominance – trade and government

Technology has changed the world in which we live.  Old norms are changing, and the next industrial revolution will be entirely technology driven and technology dependent.  In short, technology will enable innovative digital business models and society will be critically dependent on technology to function.  Intellectual property will be targeted as the battle for dominance rages. 

Evidence of fracturing geopolitical relationships started to emerge in 2018 demonstrated by the US and China trade war and the UK Brexit. In 2020, the US and China will increase restrictions and protectionist measures in pursuit of technology leadership leading to a heightened digital cold war in which data is the prize.  This race to develop strategically important next generation technology will drive an intense nation-state backed increase in espionage. The ensuing knee jerk reaction of a global retreat into protectionism, increased trade tariffs and embargos will dramatically reduce the opportunity to collaborate on the development of new technologies.  The UK’s exclusion from the EU Galileo satellite system, as a result of the anticipated Brexit, is one example.

New regulations and international agreements will not be able to fully address the issues powered by advances in technology and their impact on society.  Regulatory tit for tat battles will manifest across nation states and, rather than encourage innovation, is likely to stifle and constrain new developments, pushing up costs and increasing the complexity of trade for multinational businesses.

Third parties, internet of things (IoT) and the cloud – the emerging threat landscape

A complex interconnection of digitally connected devices and superfast networks will prove to be a security concern as modern life becomes entirely dependent on technology. Highly sophisticated and extended supply chains present new risks to corporate data as it is necessarily shared with third party providers. IoT devices are often part of a wider implementation that is key to the overall functionality.

Few devices exist in isolation, and it is the internet component of the IoT that reflects that dependency. For a home or commercial office to be truly 'smart', multiple devices need to work in cooperation. For a factory to be 'smart', multiple devices need to operate and function as an intelligent whole. However, this interconnectivity presents several security challenges, not least in the overlap of consumer and operational/industrial technology.

Finally, since so much of our critical data is now held in the cloud, opening an opportunity for cybercriminals and nation states to sabotage the cloud, aiming to disrupt economies and take down critical infrastructure through physical attacks and operating vulnerabilities across the supply chain. 

Cybercrime – criminals, nation states and the insider

Criminal organisations have a massive resource pool available to them and there is evidence that nation states are outsourcing as a means of establishing deniability. Nation states have fought for supremacy throughout history, and more recently, this has involved targeted espionage on nuclear, space, information and now smart technology. Industrial espionage is not new and commercial organisations developing strategically important technologies will be systematically targeted as national and commercial interests blur.  Targeted organisations should expect to see sustained and well-funded attacks involving a range of techniques such as zero-day exploits, DDoS attacks and advanced persistent threats.

Additionally, the insider threat is one of the greatest drivers of security risks that organisations face as a malicious insider utilises credentials to gain access to a given organisation’s critical assets. Many organisations are challenged to detect internal nefarious acts, often due to limited access controls and the ability to detect unusual activity once someone is already inside their network. 

The threat from malicious insider activity is an increasing concern, especially for financial institutions, and will continue to be so in 2020.

Involve the board of directors and key stakeholders

The role of the C-Suite has undergone significant transformation over the last decade. Public scrutiny of business leaders is at an all-time high, in part due to massive hacks and data breaches. It’s become increasingly clear in the last few years that in the event of a breach, the hacked organisation will be blamed and held accountable.

Given the rapid pace of business and technology, and the countless elements beyond the C-suite’s control, traditional risk management simply isn’t agile enough to deal with the perils of cyberspace activity. Enterprise risk management must build on a foundation of preparedness to create risk resilience by evaluating threat vectors from a position of business acceptability and risk profiling. Leading the enterprise to a position of readiness, resilience and responsiveness is the surest way to secure assets and protect people.

Incidents will happen as it is impossible to avoid every breach. But you can commit to building a mature, realistic, broad-based, collaborative approach to cybersecurity and resilience. Maturing your organisation’s ability to detect intrusions quickly and respond expeditiously will be of the highest importance in 2020 and beyond.

Steve Durbin, Managing Director, Information Security Forum