Cybersecurity Issues that the cybersecurity industry is facing continue to evolve. We must understand these to close security gaps and prevent future attacks. This post dives into twelve cybersecurity threats and issues that pose significant potential risks in 2021. We must look back at previous cybersecurity trends that set the stage for critical security issues this year.
Cybersecurity Issues to Watch Out for in 2021
1. Remote Working Attacks
One of the most notable 2021 cybersecurity issues stems from the COVID-19 impacts in 2020. Remote working threats are not new this year. But the mass shifting from office-based work to the working from home approach significantly raises the cyberattack surface.
Therefore, organizations have recorded various cyber-attacks executed by compromising vulnerable networks among employees working remotely. The solution is for companies to double down on Identity Access Management (IAM) by deploying intelligent tools. These tools analyze user activities, connectivity habits, corporate staff, and resource requests. Such an approach ensures accurate authentication and privilege access for legitimate users.
2. Fileless Attacks
Fileless ransomware and other types of malware attacks continue to plague companies in 2021. These fileless framework threats are designed to embed themselves on legitimate software or memory. This allows them to evade detection and infiltrate protected systems. They use approved software tools or platforms implemented in a system to infect a corporate network.
Attackers must get around deployed detection techniques for scanning for malicious programs, file attachments, or catalog newly created files. So, malicious cyber actors don’t need to design a unique attack framework. This is because the malicious actors use existing system resources to distribute the malware. It is a benefit for cybercriminals since it reduces resources and time.
In 2021, cybercriminals are more likely to use fileless malware attacks to attack IT and cloud service providers. They are less likely to target specific individuals or groups. Compromising service providers can enable adversaries to use the existing infrastructure to execute more attacks on downstream clients. As with other types of cyber threats, enterprises must remain vigilant to protect themselves from fileless malware attacks. A cybersecurity hygiene procedure must be in place. This focuses on timely software updates, configuring software tools to work as intended, and robust access controls that reduce risks.
3. Customized Malware Payloads
One of the stark differences between phishing and spear-phishing attacks is the former uses targeted emails sent to specific individuals. In contrast, the latter uses mass phishing emails in the hope that one recipient will click them. Although threat actors require extra effort when executing a targeted phishing attack, the method is more effective than spear-phishing. Cybercriminals can first perform reconnaissance to understand the network systems of a targeted victim before creating such social engineering attacks.
Cybercriminals use social media, company websites, and breaching personal devices connected to a network. Also, dual-use, pervasive tools, such as WMI and PowerShell, enable hackers to learn about their targets. These tools provide hackers details of services and tools an organization depends on.
Armed with the information regarding the tools and existing exploitable vulnerabilities, adversaries can create a payload designed to bring down a specific network. Customized malware payloads are time-consuming and expensive to develop but often yield high success rates. It is a common technique expected to be used more in 2021.
4. Cybersecurity issues from Compromising Business Processes
In some cases, cyber adversaries scan for exploitable vulnerabilities in business operations’ flow rather than in applications and software programs. There are increased cases of compromised business processes where cyber threat actors exploit systemic operational weaknesses for monetary rewards. However, business process attacks require cybercriminals to possess considerable knowledge about the victim’s operations and systems.
The attacks begin by compromising a system or device on the target network to enable the attacker to spy on the company’s core processes, gradually identifying possible weak links.
Business process attacks are often discrete such that affected enterprises may not detect the attacks on time. The issue is significantly worse if the compromised business process continues working as expected despite producing different outcomes.
An example of a business process attack is where a cybercriminal compromises an automatic invoicing tool to change the bank account to that of the attacker, enabling funds siphoning in future invoices.
5. Brute-force attacks
Brute-force attacks are among the oldest but still most prevalent cybersecurity issues. For example, adversaries use the method to commit distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks to disrupt and bring down corporate networks.
In the second half of 2020, there was a 12% rise in DDoS attacks, which mainly targeted small businesses and government agencies with simple network management protocol (SNMP) and simple services delivery protocol (SSDP).
Hackers use botnet swarms to amplify IP requests to overwhelm organizational networks hence slowing a network response time or completely disrupting network services. Exploits targeting SNMPs are more devastating since the protocols connect and permit the management of essential corporate devices, such as servers, routers, switches, printers, and modems.
Compromised SNMP services shield attackers from firewall appliances, exposing enterprise IT and network services to security risks. As a mitigation measure, enterprises require to implement flexible, agile tools to detect, isolate, and remediate distributed attacks in real-time.
6. Cloud Service Attacks
As a result of the widespread COVID-19 pandemic, most organizations resulted in work from home strategies to ensure business continuity while complying with lockdown and curfew measures. As such, most businesses quickly adopted new remote access methodologies, collaboration software, and cloud services.
However, the rapid change from on-premise to cloud environments denied most enterprises the opportunity to train IT professionals the requisite skills for configuring the solutions accurately. Also, many companies were unable to conduct due diligence before adopting diverse cloud solutions or vet the budget and vendors to ensure security and quality.
It is vital to note that cloud services, such as cloud storage, containers, and server applications, usually lack adequate protection. They are prime targets for most attackers due to the expanded attack surface. For instance, compromising a single cloud service can expose multiple companies using the service to different types of supply chain attacks. The exposure sidesteps organizational security as it enables hackers to infiltrate higher levels in a supply network. Trusted tools relied upon for critical business operations may contain weaponized payloads which execute malware attacks at certain times.
Besides, security weaknesses resulting from the misconfiguration of cloud services increase security risks and expose more services to attacks. The scenarios often result in inevitable data breaches leading to information loss. With many organizations embracing cloud services and remote access last year, it is expected that attacks targeting cloud services will increase significantly.
7. Sophisticated Phishing Attacks
Phishing attacks consist of carefully crafted messages designed to trick unsuspecting users into clicking malicious programs, exposing sensitive information, or sharing password credentials to essential accounts. But, awareness and training programs enable employees to detect and avoid social engineering attacks, such as phishing emails and links.
As a result, criminals employ machine learning techniques to develop bots capable of identifying email messages not replied to and responds to convince users to continue the conversation.
Sophisticated phishing methods are challenging to detect, and employees may end up revealing highly sensitive information. As new technologies emerge in 2021, companies can expect to be victims of highly sophisticated social engineering attacks targeting employees in all positions.
Also, new trends like vaccination efforts against COVID-19 may cause attackers to devise more sophisticated phishing antics aimed at fleecing individuals’ cash and information with the promise of a vaccine.
8. Reliance on External Parties
Numerous companies operate within a pervasive ecosystem that is less certain on matters of cybersecurity. Recent forecasts show that connected devices may exceed 27 billion in 2021. This is due to technological trends, such as intelligent systems, the internet of things (IoT), mobile devices, and 5G networks.
Also, remote working has taken root in most countries due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with the trend expected to continue growing. Subsequently, the concentration of a few global IT providers provides multiple entry points for adversaries throughout a digital supply chain.
In this case, organization ecosystems are as strong as the weakest links in a supply chain. Recent breaches on multinational companies, including SolarWinds and FireEye, illustrate the sensitivity of security challenges in the supply chain duet to reliance on providers for IT services and functionalities.
Companies need to consider the breadth of risk and threat exposure in the supply chain and implement robust measures for assessing the entire attack surface and threat resiliency. A cross-collaborative and inclusive approach drawing cybersecurity professionals teams from all business units is crucial to realizing an acceptable visibility level and comprehension of digital assets in 2021.
9. Challenges in Tracking Cybercriminals
Cybercrime often offers huge rewards with minimal risk of being caught. Until recently, the possibility of identifying and prosecuting a cybercriminal was estimated to be at most 0.05% in the United States, with the likelihood lower in other nations.
Adversaries have certainly mastered the art of obscuring their digital criminal footprints such that it is nearly impossible to trace an incident to a specific actor. The situation worsens with a rapidly growing cybercrime due to increasingly sophisticated tools becoming more affordable daily.
In 2021, companies should expect to face more cybercrime challenges due to their inability to detect attacks and breaches on time. Policymakers across the divide, in collaboration with cybercrime experts in all sectors, require to develop international criteria for pursuing and apprehending cybercriminals.
10. Inadequate Cybersecurity Issues Expertise
The COVID-19 pandemic last year exacerbated cyber threats, with attacks like ransomware recording fast growth rates between 2020 and 2021. Preventive measures for such attacks require meticulous preparation in aspects like backing up sensitive data and IT resources, consistent training on disaster recovery and business continuity procedures, continuous penetration testing, among others.
Organizations with proactive cybersecurity infrastructure register higher success as it is an enabler for daily business operations. As threats continue growing in complexity, the significance of robust cybersecurity will continue increasing. For instance, security by default and by design is critical for a successful business.
However, an acute shortage of cybersecurity expertise, and the high price for maintaining one in-house, continues to be a challenge for most businesses, exposing them to numerous cyber threats and risks.
11. Continually Evolving Cybersecurity Issues
Digitization has caused various impacts on multiple aspects of business or government operations. The rapid adoption of technologies, such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, 5G, internet of things (IoT), and deep neural networks, has led to increased dependence on cloud infrastructure, mobile devices, computer hardware, and software.
However, digitization complexities imply that governments and the private sector fight cyber threats and risks influenced by the evolving technologies. They range from fake news propagated to influence election outcomes to cyber-attacks targeting to disrupt critical infrastructure.
They also comprise a wave of ransomware attacks seeking to exploit the healthcare industry and attacks on third-party IT providers, such as SolarWinds, tasked with managing network systems of critical government or private entities.
Facing the complex and heightened cybersecurity risks in 2021, the private and public sectors must acknowledge that cybersecurity should be prioritized in national security interests. An emerging crop of technically savvy, varied, silent, and distributed cyber criminals requires stakeholders in all industries to collaborate and incorporate sufficient cybersecurity frameworks, principles, and features to protect against complex cyber challenges.
12. Complex and Fragmented Regulations
Cybercrimes are transnational cybersecurity issues since the nature of the Internet permits criminals to execute attacks in any part of the world. Meanwhile, companies must navigate complex and increasing regulations designed to protect users across borders on top of protecting themselves. The regulations include the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the Cybersecurity Law of the People’s Republic of China, the California Consumer Privacy Act, among other global regulations.
While the regulations are necessary since they recommend measures for protecting sensitive information and user privacy, they can create conflicting and fragmented cybersecurity priorities for organizations. In turn, this can cause weakened cyber defense mechanisms. All companies must allocate adequate budgets to bolster their cybersecurity procedures and comply with complex regulations.
The challenge has been prevalent in recent years and is expected to continue being an issue for most businesses in 2021. That said, policymakers must weigh cybersecurity decisions with the impact of addressing complex cybersecurity regulations. Multiple regulations and policies cause compliance complexities, which may introduce sensitive data, personal information protection, and cybersecurity challenges.
I am a cyber security professional with a passion for delivering proactive strategies for day to day operational challenges. I am excited to be working with leading cyber security teams and professionals on projects that involve machine learning & AI solutions to solve the cyberspace menace and cut through inefficiency that plague today’s business environments.