Digital transformation has been pivotal in the last decade. The continuous development of new digital innovations and increased cloud migration have changed how conventional businesses operate across various industries. From automating complex manual processes to replacing physical systems with cloud services, digitalization has revolutionized how organizations work every day. It has also made our personal lives easier and more convenient. Today almost every aspect of an individual’s daily life is dependent on digital services, whether it’s making payments, using social media, or communicating with others.
Although this increased digital dependency and interconnectivity has crafted endless benefits for us, it has also created significant concerns in terms of digital security and transparency. Some of the biggest challenges that individuals and organizations are facing today include protecting personal data, securing digital services, and safeguarding smart systems and devices from a wide range of cyberthreat actors. These concerns and challenges are addressed by cybersecurity, a sophisticated practice of protecting data, networks, smart systems and devices from malicious attacks.
Cybersecurity has become an integral part of business practices in the past decade, and it will continue to be one of the biggest focuses of modern industries for years to come. The emerging use of advanced technologies such as cloud computing, artificial intelligence (AI), and the internet of things (IoT) has significantly expanded the cyberthreat landscape. Therefore, security experts today have to deal with a wide range of new threats and challenges.
However, there are certain security trends that are currently dominating, and are likely to stay prevalent in the near future. Below are some of the biggest security trends that will dominate the cybersecurity focus over the next few years.
Ransomware is perhaps one of the biggest and most immediately dangerous cyberattack types, capable of crippling an entire organization in minutes. It is a type of malware that encrypts the critical files of a system and cuts user access to it. To restore the access to the user, the attacker demands a payment or ransom — hence the name.
In most cases, the chronology of a ransomware attack is simple. The malware breaches the system or device, starts encrypting the entire system or specific files, and sends messages to the admin demanding the ransom. When ransom demands are not fulfilled, the critical assets which are mostly private data are leaked on public platforms, or even sold to other malicious actors on the dark web. However, often paying the ransom doesn’t guarantee successful recovery of the data. Reports suggest that only 57% of the organizations that pay the ransom are successful in recovering their data.
The ransom amount can vary from a few hundred dollars to millions, depending on the size of the targeted organization. In 2021, the average ransomware payment demand was $570,000. The history of ransomware attacks dates back to the early 90s. The first-ever ransomware attack occurred in 1989 targeting the healthcare industry. The malware was delivered inside physical floppy disks labeled “AIDS Information,” which was distributed to several healthcare professionals at a WHO AIDS conference. Three decades down the line, ransomware attacks continue to grow at a frightening rate, as attackers are constantly innovating their approach to breaching sophisticated networks.
The frequency of ransomware attacks almost doubled in 2021 compared to the previous year. In fact, almost 38% of all reported breaches in 2021 were ransomware attacks. In 2020, the increase was a massive 139% compared to 2019. This unprecedented growth of ransomware attacks has been influenced by the pandemic, as businesses are increasingly shifting towards a digital direction. Data is currently the most valuable asset for organizations, and ransomware attacks hold this very asset as a hostage.
While the frequency of ransomware attacks has greatly increased, the methods used by threat actors have also evolved and become more sophisticated and harder to detect. Old-school attack strategies were mostly comprised of sending spam emails with malicious attachments or physically infiltrating the system using a malicious device. However, the new generation of ransomware attackers are deploying coordinated strategies that go deep into the target system. The attack starts with an initial compromise point to gain entry to the system or network. From there, the malware disguises itself as a system file and starts encrypting the target assets while staying undetected. With such strategies, the malware can stay inside the system for weeks or even months, and trigger the ransomware attack several times in different phases.
So, the most effective approach to preventing ransomware attacks is building cybersecurity solutions around these initial compromise points. The most common compromise points that lead to a ransomware attack include:
Phishing: A form of social engineering, where the attacker sends a fraudulent message pretending to be a reputable source, such as the bank, HR department, the CEO, or an important client. The message contains malicious content or links, which can leak the victim’s credentials when accessed.
Network vulnerabilities: The continuous changes in the digital landscape and constant updates in software functions often leave unknown vulnerabilities in networks. If these vulnerabilities are not monitored and instantly patched, it can become a potential entry point for ransomware attacks.
Remote desktop protocol: RDP are network communications protocols commonly used by network administrators to remotely troubleshoot problems or remotely access physical devices inside a corporate network. If remote access is not secured with critical security standards like zero trust or multifactor authentication, threat actors can breach the corporate device using illicit remote desktop software and launch a ransomware attack.
How to prevent ransomware attacks?
As ransomware attacks are most likely to stay prevalent in the coming years, taking proactive measures against such attacks will be one of the foremost priorities for cybersecurity experts. Although not all ransomware attacks are the same, taking the following proactive measures can help organizations reduce the risk of such attacks:
- Using an effective spam filter to block phishing emails.
- Install reporting functions on all corporate email clients for better communication of malicious emails.
- Block files with certain extensions from emails.
- Implement IAM (identity and access management) tools to manage access privileges.
- Shift to a zero trust architecture.
- Constantly conduct network audits and traffic assessments.
- Implementation of strict policies at the segmentation gateways, application level, and NGFWs.
- Constantly updating email gateways and blocking any ad function on corporate browsers.
- Increased workforce awareness of ransomware.
- Store data backups offline.
IoT (the Internet of Things) is the essence of today’s corporate networks and smart lifestyle. IoT is the network of physical systems embedded with smart functions, software, and other technologies. For example, in our daily lives, our smart devices like smartwatches, smartphones, and laptops are all interconnected. Any activity on one device is visible and accessible via the other devices. Similarly, organizations have interconnected computer systems, storage devices, data centers, and other sophisticated tools.
With increased digitalization, IoT connectivity is increasing rapidly. Oracle predicts that there will be 22 billion connected IoT devices by 2025. While the increasing number of interconnected systems and networks has created multiple benefits like efficient communication, streamlined business processes and increased user convenience, it has also opened doors to critical cyber threats.
More interconnected devices mean more entry points for potential cyberattacks. While a network infrastructure might be well-protected, any vulnerabilities in the connected devices can lead to the entire network being potentially compromised.
The first IoT security incident was reported in 2016 when more than 600,000 IoT devices were breached by the Mirai Botnet malware. The infected devices were mostly internet routers and security cameras. The attack disrupted internet access for millions of users across the world. Today, IoT solutions are implemented across thousands of businesses and industries around the globe, for improved efficiency and a higher level of visibility. However, the benefits of IoT are being overshadowed by threat actors, as connected systems are being used to plot large-scale attacks targeting critical network infrastructures and sensitive data.
Securing IoT networks
Ensuring IoT device security can be a challenge for many reasons. Firstly, not every device has the same security functions. Threat actors don’t need to breach every device within a network, they can often just breach one device to gain access to the core network system. Also, when there is a huge number of interconnected devices in a single network, security teams often fail to monitor every access point. Unknown vulnerabilities or unprotected devices can lead to critical attacks.
To ensure IoT system security, organizations need to implement unified security solutions that focus on proactive measures, rather than threat response and mitigation. Deploying sophisticated solutions that can manage the connectivity of each device on the network can help organizations to reduce the risk of critical attacks. Such solutions include Zero Trust user authentication and access control tools, which verifies every device and user that wants to connect to the organizational network. Constantly validating devices and accounts connected to the IoT network is the most viable approach to securing today’s interconnected digital infrastructure.
While remote working was predominantly practiced in the tech industry, the global pandemic influenced almost every industry to introduce this model for their employees. As most physical services were forced to shut down, businesses started working through digital channels. The increased efficiency and convenience of this new model have convinced most organizations to keep remote working as a part of their workforce arrangements. According to reports, over 25% of all jobs will become remote by the end of 2022.
However, this increased practice of working remotely has also created new security vulnerabilities. Remote employees are constantly accessing and logging into corporate systems using personal devices and public/private networks, which are unprotected by enterprise solutions.
As remote working is likely to become a norm across industries, security teams must implement proactive solutions specifically focused on remote working environments. Mentioned below are some of the significant measures that organizations should take to protect their remote employees from potential cyber threats:
- Implement strong security policies to ensure employees can only access organizational networks through authorized devices
- Implement automated fraud-detection tools
- Install effective identity and access management solutions
- Conduct security training to increase the awareness of remote workers
- Enforce strict password standards and multi-factor authentication
- Use endpoint security solutions
As we move beyond 2022, new cybersecurity trends will continue to emerge. To keep individuals and businesses secure, a proactive approach to IT security is of paramount importance. Organizations need to focus on flexible, collaborative, and advanced security tools to protect their critical assets from the continuously expanding cyber threat surfaces.