Emerging Trends in Cyber Security2017 was a banner year for high profile cyber-attacks on companies across the world. Large businesses like; Yahoo had 3 billion accounts breached, Equifax had another 145 million accounts breached, Uber had only 57 million individual records accessed.

How did the attackers gain access? 

For email breaches, it was through weak identification steps to access the administrator account for the cloud, email database. Or, it was a failure to promptly apply a security patch to its open source software for web applications. Software developers shared code, user names and passwords in a private account; this account was hacked enabling subsequent access to data on Customers.

Servers have been hacked through simple spearfishing and malware and only spotted years later.  Widespread attacks like Wannacry, which has a ransomware worm that encrypts files and jumps across networks. Networks with updated Window security patches were usually fine but others less so, one third of the UK’s NHS Trusts have been affected.

Each of these cases offers insight into the different ways attackers gain access to IT systems.

What can we expect in 2018 and beyond?

At the start of this year, we heard that most PC processing chips made in the past 20 years are vulnerable to Spectre and Meltdown threats. Patches have been deployed by the chip manufacturers, we can only wait to see if attackers find a way through.

News headlines of data breaches in 2018 have not been as big as 2017, but we have seen major attacks on Atlanta City’s IT system as well as two large Canadian banks.  An FBI announcement in May reports the latest malware, called VPNFilter, has infected an estimated 500,000 devices across 50 countries. So, the pace continues but are we getting used to this, like many shocking news stories?

What are some of the trends in cyber attacks?

Fileless malware attacks are on the rise with 3% of attacks in 2016 and 13% in 2017 . These attacks are harder to detect and prevent than file based, downloadable attacks. The fileless approach uses legitimate computer software, and innate vulnerabilities to initiate attacks. They are therefore much harder to spot.

An emerging trend is the increased skills of cyber attackers to get around IT sandboxing. This is used to examine suspicious files in isolation of the rest the computer system. Attackers use is hard to spot as malware is timed to activate, only after exiting a sandbox. This clearly points again to the need to create more sophisticated, cyber security measures and people.

Can we say that our cyber skills, training and educational systems are keeping pace with the increasing threat?

A new cyber battleground is likely to focus on the use of Artificial Intelligence, (AI). Huge investment is going into AI by the big players in the IT market. Hackers have managed to keep up and get beyond developments to find new ways to launch and target attacks. Greater availability of AI tools will help to spot and prevent attacks.

Most current cyber-attacks are not overly sophisticated, such as phishing. It is anticipated that AI methods will be deployed to enhance attacks by automating the discovery of software or hardware vulnerabilities, critically enabling the targeting of individuals through social media and maximising the impact of these phishing attacks.

Cyber-attacks hit a high in 2017 and we wait to see if GDPR produces another spike in 2018.  The trends in cyber security, threats suggest we can expect to see more attacks in 2018 and more sophisticated attacks.  In the meantime, with four months to go, we will see if 2018 provides the same headlines as 2017.

One thing is certain, attacks will become more sophisticated. Businesses and IT security teams need to be even more vigilant in terms of maintaining and updating the security of their organisation’s IT practices and systems.

GDPR will help but is only the beginning of better compliance; it looks like this will also require improvement thinking and engagement.

Contributed by Matthew O Sullivan at CJHNetwork