Our crystal ball forecasts that the cyber-attacks and data breaches in 2019 will continue to increase in both frequency and intensity. The ransomware, cryptojacking, more focused spear phishing, IoT infiltration, shadow IT, cyber warfare, new online identification ways, push for better education and training, boards and executives involvement are just some of the cybersecurity predictions.
It is not a secret that modern information and communication technologies (ICT) are developing at an unprecedented pace. Artificial intelligence, machine learning and quantum computing are fields that are quickly developing, offering unmatched opportunities for both cyber-attacks and defence. In such a setting, it is not easy to make predictions in the still frantic world of cybersecurity.
The predictions in this article are, hence, based on the clues that we have found in the cybersecurity happenings in 2018 and the forecasts of a number of reports dealing with the anticipated events in 2019. The general expectation is that cyber-attacks and data breaches will continue to increase in both frequency and intensity. So let us see what a look into the 2019 cybersecurity crystal ball reveals.
Ransomware is foreseen to decrease but do not lower your guard
It is predicted that the ransomware attacks in 2019 will be gradually replaced by other, more popular adversarial ways of generating revenue. The use of botnet computers for crypto mining (cryptojacking) is one of the methods that are quickly gaining in popularity. The main driver behind this trend lies in the fact that the cryptocurrency mining requires large amounts of computing power, often obtained through cryptojacking. Although this kind of cyber theft slows the exploiting systems down, the cryptojacking attacks are often stealthy, hence not easy to detect.
It is also foreseen that the future ransomware attacks will be more focused on easier targets such are municipalities and healthcare organisations.
Our digital privacy will be a bit better protected?
The introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) by the European Union, and the acts such as Protection of Personal Information Act in South Africa, will definitely play a role in increasing our digital privacy. The enforcement of GDPR in May 2018 is predicted to be particularly harsh in 2019 as it has sets forth fines up to 10 million euros.
To illustrate the seriousness of the GDPR intent, it suffices to point out to the fact that Equifax was fined a £500,000 for failing to protect the personal information of up to 15 million UK citizens, affected by the 2017 cyber-attack on this credit reference agency.
There is, however, warning by cybersecurity professionals that overly broad regulations might prohibit security companies from sharing even generic information in their efforts to identify and counter attacks. If poorly conceived, security and privacy regulations could create new vulnerabilities even as they close others.
The national-state surveillance is on the rise
State-conducted or sponsored targeted cyber attacks are not new. These attacks already came to the prominence by the revelations of Edward Snowden a few years back. However, it is predicted that the surveillance attacks on journalists, dissidents and politicians will continue to grow.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz stipulates that the Israeli government seems to be a major exporter of the spying technology and that many countries are already using that software to target particular groups of their citizens.
Two-sided Artificial Intelligence systems
Machine-learning and artificial intelligence (AI) systems are already used in many areas of business and the ‘smart’ homes operations, generating a vast amount of data. That is the way many cybersecurity professionals believe that those systems are susceptible to malicious interference aimed at stealing or corrupting these data.
The machine-learning and AI systems will not just be targeted by cyber-criminals. These systems will also be used for targeting corporate and national information systems – particularly those used by the internet of things (IoT). For example, the AI built in the autonomous cars or medical scanning and decision-making devices will come under thoughtful security scrutiny in 2019.
Being powerful, AI systems will be also used for spreading fake news and various social engineering attacks.
On the positive side, threat detection systems already use machine learning and AI techniques to identify hard to detect hazards and even zero-day threats. These technologies will be increasingly used in 2019 for advanced penetration testing and discovering otherwise difficult to catch vulnerabilities.
Changing the way of our online identification
It is, unfortunately, prophesied that password theft and password-based breaches will persist in the next year.
The password-only identification is rapidly fading out as it is predicted that the multi-factor authentication will become the standard for all the online transactions in 2019. However, until new standards are fully at play, it seems that this new identification way will confuse and irritate some online users as many already complain about the two-factor authentication.
The interplay between usability and security will, hence, be one of the major head-scratching hitches for the online application developers in 2019 (and beyond).
Phishing sharpens its spear
An effective surveillance is a key to a successful cyber-attack – all savvy hackers now this. It is thus expected that breaking into communication channels such as emails or social networks of particular individuals will be on the rise in 2019.
As awareness of the users of digital technologies is rising, all-purpose phishing emails are becoming far less successful. Hence, cybercriminals will target individuals that are using the Internet for large financial transactions such as a home or car buyers.
IoT is grooving so does the attack surface
In the last few years, the Internet of Things (IoT) systems were used predominantly for making and exploiting so-called ‘botnets’ or ‘zombie’ nets. These powerful webs were deployed to launch the distributed denial of services (DDoS) attacks, which crippled numerous servers and the web-based services.
Since IoT devices are still poorly protected, it is to expect that cybercriminals will increasingly attack these gadgets in 2019. Although we expect that the ‘smart’ homes will continuously be targeted by criminals, particular attention should be paid to kinetic devices such as autonomous cars and drones.
The IoT functioning is also often coupled with the cloud services. Hence, the reported cloud computing insecurities in 2018, prompted cybersecurity boffins to foresee that an ever-increased amount of data transported by and stored in different cloud systems will be an attractive target for criminals.
Shadow IT systems – a persistent threat
Information systems, technologies, applications and cloud services without explicit organisational approval (Shadow IT, Shadow applications, Shadow Cloud) will be a nightmare for many security professionals in 2019.
According to Gartner, by 2020, around 30% of successful attacks on enterprises will be on their unsanctioned shadow IT resources. It is also to expect that most problems related to shadow cloud in 2019 will occur within the organisations using public or hybrid cloud computing services.
Will we see some cyber warfare rules established in 2019?
Although classic warfare is regulated by the basic set of rules, such as Geneva Conventions, it is likely that some nation-states will continue to define their own limits regarding cyber warfare. However, since cyber-attacks on the national critical (and sometimes military) infrastructures are becoming more frequent, the regulation of cyber warfare is becoming imperative.
It does not seem, unfortunately, that 2019 will bring much advancement in this area as it is predicted that, with the ongoing failure of significant national, international or UN level response and repercussion, the nation-state sponsored espionage and sabotage will continue to expand in 2019 and beyond.
Cybersecurity training and education
As the protection and detection technology matures, the attacks on the computer networks are shifting to the users, which are still considered as the cybersecurity weakest link. Poor cybersecurity awareness and still inadequate education and training in many countries and organisations are some of the culprits for this shift. South Africa, unfortunately, belongs to these countries.
According to the reports in 2018, it seems that there is a growing recognition that the cyber awareness and training should be a crucial step in protecting digital systems at organisational and national levels. It is then to expect that, in 2019, both private and public organisations will foster cybersecurity awareness, education and training. Will it happened in South Africa, it remains to be seen.
Here is also a prediction that will concern certified cybersecurity professionals. Although the cybersecurity training continues to mature, it seems that certificates alone will no longer be enough to take the next step in a security professional’s career. It seems that companies will increasingly be looking to hire CSOs/CISOs with the cross-disciplinary skills acquired from Masters Degree programmes.
Boards and C-Level executives are taking control?
Relatively recent NASDAQ report revealed that more than 90% of corporate executives said they cannot read a cybersecurity report and are not prepared to handle a major attack. Even more distressing was the fact that 40% of executives said they do not feel responsible for the repercussions of hackings.
However, the reports on the major business risks of cyber breaches in 2018 have woken up many boards and the C-level executives. So it is to expect that they will most likely continue to seriously address the cybersecurity agendas in 2019.
The above trends are just predictions but not necessarily a definite prophecy. As the technology landscape is rapidly changing, so do the cybersecurity vectors, tools and techniques. We, hence, recommend that organisations of all kinds adopt the cybersecurity culture that includes continuous monitoring of the cybersecurity landscape, launching frequent awareness campaigns, coupled with the education and training of their employees.