Posted on November 24, 2020 at 5:07 PM
In our world today, virtually everything is connected online. This has resulted in serious issues regarding data and system security. Threat actors are taking advantage of system vulnerability to launch a series of attacks, ranging from DDoS attacks to phishing attacks. The coronavirus pandemic has made this year a big hunting season for cyberattackers, with a record number of data breaches recorded this year.
As 2020 is gradually coming to an end, we want to look at the challenges and threats of cybersecurity in 2021. But first, let’s look at the meaning of cybersecurity and the challenges facing it presently.
What is cybersecurity?
If you already know what cybersecurity really means, you may skip this part. But if you’re not sure, take a few moments to understand it clearly.
Many people have different definitions of cybersecurity because the term is a buzzword.
But basically, it is the way of protecting computer systems and other online connectable devices from the damage or theft of the data. It is also the term used to describe the protection of systems from the misdirection or disruption of services they provide.
But don’t get it wrong, thinking that cybersecurity only offers protection on things connected to the internet. It encompasses that definition because cybersecurity has been existing even before the advent of the internet. The only thing the internet did was to make it more difficult to protect data when they go online.
Present challenges facing cybersecurity
It has now become common to read about data breaches of Phone companies, online retailers, credit card companies, banks, and even tech giants who are supposed to have the highest cybersecurity levels.
Thankfully, many companies are actively developing a more robust plan to tackle threat actors and their operational methods. Tech giants such as Google, Apple, and Microsoft have done a lot to reduce the rate of cyber attacks on systems and devices.
That is why they keep updating their software and apps used on servers, computers, phones, tablets, and other devices. Governments are also doing their part with stringent policies and a more sophisticated security system to protect their systems and servers.
Last year, the U.S. government spent $15 billion to increase the security of its servers and classified data. The majority of the budget was used up by the Department of Homeland Security.
But the cybercriminals are not relenting in their efforts to infiltrate systems and explore vulnerabilities.
A recent report by Norton Security revealed that about 60 million Americans have been a victim of identity theft. That number is expected to increase if institutions, companies, regulatory bodies, and other stakeholders do not do something to increase the security levels.
Top cybersecurity challenges and threats
Identifying the cause of a problem is a major step towards solving that problem. For small businesses, companies, and government institutions to deal with cyberattacks, they need to identify the top threats they will face in the future. We are going to look at the major challenges and threats the cybersecurity world will face in 2021.
Data Privacy Implosion
There have been regulations at both the Federal and State levels in the U.S. on data privacy. Even big companies such as Facebook have been accused of violating data privacy policies. In 2021, several businesses will struggle to adapt to new data privacy regulations.
International businesses will also learn how they can adapt quickly to reengineer how they will be processing data. While organizations are limited by regulations on how to handle user data, threat actors will also be busy trying to infringe on user privacy through various hacking and phishing methods.
So, business organizations and other institutions must improve their data security policies and measures to keep user data safe from threat actors.
Social Engineering Attacks
Most social engineering attacks depend largely on social and human interaction, and not only on bots finding their way into the user system. This type of attack is usually successful because of human errors.
That’s why social engineering is one of the biggest security risks organizations and cybersecurity experts will face in 2021.
So, what’s the level of risk in social engineering attacks? Well, very much.
Some reports have revealed that 93 percent of data infringements have come from employees who are victims of social engineering attacks without their knowledge. The worst is the fact that the employees may not even know they have faced these attacks until the damage is done.
Even after the data breach, many employees may not know the data breach occurred through their system or mobile device.
Social engineering attacks happen a cyberattacker manipulates the target to access data or to disclose vital personal information. The attackers use formats that play on the victim’s emotions, which makes social engineering a highly potent cyber attack.
A popular tactic is to send messages to the target, making them believe they are helping them solve a problem. That’s the reason why social engineering attacks increased during this pandemic period.
For instance, the attacker may send the target a message, posing as a family member or a fellow employee, and requesting a bank account, an important document, or sensitive data. People fall victim to this type of attack because even the best security system cannot prevent the user from sharing their password or sending files.
To deal with social engineering attacks, most companies organize regular training for their employees to teach them how to recognize these types of attacks and strategies employed by threat actors.
They also set rules and guidelines for employees especially when they are working on sensitive data. For instance, most companies do not allow their employees to share company usernames or passwords online.
And instead of emailing a coworker for a sensitive document, they should rather call them and tell them on phone. These are some of the measures companies have taken to reduce the number of social engineering attacks.
As we are getting close to 2021, companies need to spend more money to educate their employees to prevent this type of attack.
Machine learning data poisoning
Machine learning is increasingly becoming more common within enterprises. But with this new development comes new waves of cyberattacks.
After stealing a copy of the original data, the threat actor can start manipulating the models by placing poisoned data into the training tools. The attack could destroy the integrity of any legitimately processed data as a result of the automatic processing by downstream applications.
After the heinous act, the attacker can follow it up with a ransom note, asking the victim to pay a certain amount of money (usually in cryptocurrency) before their files could be restored.
One sad thing about this new ransomware method is the fact that it is very difficult to detect, and almost impossible to recover from. Due to the nature of the attack, the victim will see the payment of the ransom as the best option.
Weaponized Artificial Intelligence
There are reports that threat actors are gradually leveraging machine learning (ML) to increase attacks on systems and networks.
When the ML engines are fed with data from previous attacks, it will enable the ML to find patterns in the system’s defense system, quickly identifying vulnerabilities that can be exploited.
When the threat actors hit other systems and get more data, it will be added to the cyberattack engine to grow the ML.
The number of ransomware attacks on organizations this year went to an unprecedented level. Ransomware involves the threat actor having access to the victim’s computer and locking them out.
They usually ask for ransom before they are allowed access to the system. But in most cases, the hackers lock out the victim from accessing their files, demanding ransom payment before those files can be released. Even if the victim pays the ransom, it is not a guarantee they will get the files back.
That is why a ransomware attack is very dangerous. It could cripple the database of a whole organization, which could cause millions of dollars to gain back.
Ransomware can easily spread through phishing emails when the target unknowingly visits a malware-infected website. The difficulty of recovering stolen or affected data makes ransomware devastating.
This is another form of social engineering attack, which has unfortunately become one of the most common forms of cyberattacks on systems and devices.
It occurs when a threat actor tricks someone into visiting a site containing malware, downloading malware, or providing sensitive information.
Phishing is so common in today’s world because of the high use of electronic communication such as social media accounts, instant messaging, text messaging, as well as email.
The most common phishing attack is threat actors targeting their victims through email. They can create an email to make it look exactly like the one you receive from your government or local bank. The email usually requests that you visit a website and enter your username and password.
Sometimes the attacker can create a fake social media account that resembles a family member or friend’s account. The threat actor can then demand data or money through messaging, as it will seem it’s your family member or friend sending such a message.
To protect against phishing attacks, it’s important to have cybersecurity guidelines and the proper training. That should be an important first step.
As with other social engineering attacks, employees need to be trained to identify specific phishing tactics and patterns.
The common patterns and signs of phishing attacks include unusual requests for sensitive information, an odd sense of urgency, incorrect punctuation, language, or grammar, and generic language such as “Madam” or “Sir”.
There has been an increased number of threats on the Internet of Things (IoT) devices mainly because these devices do not come with a strong security framework.
A new study recently revealed that the attacks on IoT devices have tripped this year, and it’s likely to increase next year. There will be more issues related to wireless communications, updates of firmware and software from unverified sources, non-encrypted personal data, as well as hardcoded passwords.
As a result of IoT device vulnerability, manufacturers have been called to intensify efforts to beef up the security framework of their products to make them more difficult to infiltrate.
PDF scams are similar to phishing attacks. The only goal threat actors using PDF attacks is to get the target to open the PDF file. They usually send an email with the PDF attachment, asking the target to open the PDF file and adding some sense of urgency to the mail. In the email, they often state an account statement has been attached or a security policy has been updated.
However, when the target clicks the attached PDF, it exposes them to ransomware or malware on their computer.
PDF scams are always easier to fall for compared to email links because people are warier of clicking email links than opening a PDF file, especially if they are made to believe it’s a press release or an account statement from their bank.
Like email and phishing scams, preventing this type of scam requires employees to be properly trained and orientated about the various patterns of PDF scams and how to spot them. They should look out for generic and unusual headings that may give the user a clue about the nature of the file.
In 2021, many attackers will still be involved in PDF scans, so it’s important to know how to spot them.
The world of cybersecurity has evolved over the years, as more new challenges continue to spring up every day. This year, the number of cyber threats skyrocketed, and it’s not going to stop next year.
More threat actors are joining the cybercrime gang and there are more new attacks every day. State-sponsored attackers, who are deemed the most sophisticated, are also major threats to governments and institutions.
This means the cybersecurity community will need to step up its combative strategies to help protect data and keep systems safe from cybercriminals in 2021.