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Corporate Cyber Threats to look out for in 2020


In insight / By Steve Brown / 12 December 2019

The past 12 months has seen a whirlwind of cyber threat activity. Organisations are struggling to combat a perfect storm of attacks increasing in volume and variety, rigorous compliance requirements and in-house IT security skills shortages. This comes at a time when efforts to improve business agility and market competitiveness have arguably expanded the corporate cyber-attack surface even further.

But looking backwards will only have a limited benefit for IT and business leaders. Instead, we need to predict what the coming year, and beyond, has in store to ensure budget is assigned where it’s needed most in your computer network. To that end, here are our top five security threats to watch out for in 2020.

Shelter From the Coming 5G Storm

The Internet of Things (IoT) is at the centre of organisations’ efforts to digitally transform their information systems. Smart connectivity is creeping into a whole range of devices and systems; from corporate vehicles to building control units, boardrooms and the factory floor. More still are set to be brought into the workplace by employees, who will expect their employers to provide network connectivity. The problem is that many of these devices have been designed and made without security in mind. That means they often ship with factory default passwords, contain firmware vulnerabilities and have no easy update mechanism.

These weaknesses can be targeted by hackers to conscript compromised devices into botnets or target them outright to sabotage business processes and infiltrate corporate networks. The bad news is that as 5G networks roll-out in 2020 and beyond, the faster download speeds and bigger bandwidth that comes with them will support a whole new wave of IoT adoption. Firms must adapt information security policies to mitigate these risks and look for kitemarked kit when buying.

Ransomware is Here to Stay

Some things never change. We’ve been talking about, and warning about, ransomware attacks for several years now. It will continue to be a major threat in 2020 as attackers go after fewer organisations but with more targeted approaches that could be harder to stop. Schools and universities, hospitals and public sector organisations are particularly at risk, but in truth every organisation is a possible target if the hackers think you might pay up. Over a quarter (28%) of UK companies were hit with attacks over the past 12 months, according to a survey by Databarracks.

Common tactics to compromise victims include phishing emails, and the targeting of RDP endpoints with stolen credentials or brute force/credential stuffing attacks. That makes it more important than ever to improve staff training, use strong passwords or 2FA, and deploy other tactics. Plus, don’t forget to back-up regularly in line with best practice rules.

Cloud Computing: Misconfigured and Riddled with Flaws

Cloud computing is in many ways the foundational technology on which so much digital transformation is built today. It allows organisations to become more flexible, cost efficient and scalable, and supports seamless DevOps processes to drive innovative customer-facing experiences. But as more companies embrace multiple cloud providers and hybrid set-ups, the complexity will continue to grow. And as we know, more complexity is usually bad for cyber security.

In 2020, expect the misconfiguration of cloud servers to continue, but this time with more cyber-criminals scanning for exposed instances; there’s a greater chance that data troves will be stolen and ransomed. From a DevOps perspective, the use of third-party code and components to accelerate development pipelines will expose more organisations to vulnerabilities. Breaches linked to open source components rose 71% over the past five years and their use in containers and serverless architectures will only increase these risks. Improved employee training, use of tools like cloud security posture management (CSPM) and an integrated DevSecOps function will be increasingly important.

Remote Workers Under Attack

We’re all spending less time in the office, and that’s a good thing. It makes us more productive and ensures we have happier employees, all whilst saving employers money on facilities-related overheads. But as the traditional corporate perimeter vanishes away, new risks emerge. Wi-Fi hotspots have been found time and again to present a major security threat and even USB charging points can be pre-loaded with malware in so-called “juice jacking” attacks.

Even working from home presents certain risks. With so many potentially exposed smart home gadgets on the same network, employees may be unwittingly providing hackers with an open door via which to attack their corporate network. Unless they put in place rigorous security policies for home workers, mandating VPNs and other controls, IT bosses could find their organisations come under attack from an unlikely source.

Deepfakes: Social Engineering on Steroids

One of the most disturbing trends of recent months has been the emergence of AI-powered deepfake content. In these clips, audio and video is doctored to impersonate the purported speaker and effectively get them to say something they did not. It’s worrying on two counts. Firstly, the propaganda value for those engaged in state-sponsored election interference is huge — even if a clip is subsequently proven to be a fake, the damage may already have been done. Closer to home, deepfakes are already being used to trick corporate victims into making costly mistakes. A UK energy CEO was recently conned into wiring £200,000 to a fake supplier after receiving a phone call from who he thought was his German boss.

Expect deepfakes to become the new front in the war against social engineering and BEC-style compromise. This will demand a more rigorous approach to staff security awareness training; from the CEO all the way down to temporary employees, as well as improved tooling to spot fakes. The good news is that Facebook is ploughing millions into technology designed to weed out the deepfakes. But smaller companies without the same deep pockets will have to rely more on their staff’s wits than machine learning.

For some organisations, the battle to tackle escalating cyber risk is too hard to do alone. There’s no shame in that; in fact, by outsourcing to a trusted managed service provider (MSP) you are handing over cyber and data security to the experts in a way that will help to maximise your in-house resources. This will become an increasingly popular model as we head into a new decade. As the bad guys continue to professionalise, many IT leaders will feel it’s time they sought the help of tech partners dedicated to supporting their business.

Get in touch with Nasstar today to find out how we can help you with your digital transformation and cyber security woes.

Steve Brown

Steve Brown

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