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Flawless phishes coming

What lies ahead for companies, governments and individuals regarding cybersecurity in 2019? Will we see the EU government forcing US data centers to hand over data? Will the European Union issue its first major fines for organisations in contravention of its General Data Protection Regulation? Will our growing dependence on social media expose us to unwanted risks as our accounts become compromised? BRIAN PINNOCK, cybersecurity specialist at Mimecast, gives his opinion.

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The World Economic Forum recently placed cybersecurity as the fifth biggest global risk for doing business, with 19 countries ranking it as their number one concern, including 14 in Europe and North America, as well as Japan, India, Indonesia, Singapore and the UAE. As the political climate around the world continues to create volatility, growing numbers of connected global citizens will turn to the Internet to have their message heard. The growth in connected devices– from consumer wearables to industrial IoT to medical devices – is compounding the security challenge as each device represents a potential cybersecurity risk.

Here, we take a global look at some of the key developments we expect to see on the cybersecurity front in 2019.

More effective, not different, cyberattack types

Throughout 2019, the most insidious development won’t be new attack types but rather improved execution of existing attack types, especially those delivered via email. Better social engineering, more advanced phishing attacks, increases in credential stuffing attacks, and more complicated malware with multiple stages and different form factors for transmission, will make threats incredibly tricky to detect.

Phishing techniques like the use of homoglyphs, elongated URLs, the use of legitimate certifications (green lock), and credential-harvesting sites will increase. Flawless phishes will continue to prey on the gap in human firewalls, pivoting internally around organisations and intensifying efforts to better educate all staff. Cybersecurity awareness training, which according to a global Mimecast and Vanson Bourne study is only continuously conducted by 11% of global organisations, will receive renewed attention as organisations bolster the capabilities of their first line of defence: their employees.

Cybercriminals will also shift focus to weaker countries and industry verticals that lag in their adoption of more advanced cyber defences. More industrialised countries are investing heavily in cybersecurity, making them less attractive to cybercriminals. Companies in particularly the Middle East and Africa often assume their security is sufficient without realising that the threat landscape is drastically shifting. This makes them easy targets for cybercriminals who tend to follow the path of least resistance. Attackers will also continue to shift their attention away from larger organisations to small and medium businesses.

Monetisation of data breaches

There have been several highly successful high-profile data breaches over the past few years. From Equifax to Facebook, eBay to JPMorgan, hackers have made off with sensitive data for hundreds of millions of user accounts. Just recently, Marriott announced that its Starwood database was hacked for approximately 500 million guests – one of the largest breaches in history. With global cybercrime organisations’ growing in maturity and sophistication, many are now acquiring capabilities that were once the sole reserve of nation states. We’re likely to see these cybercriminals use stolen credentials from the past few years’ data breaches to compromise the security of even the most secure organisations. Even companies with good cyber protection have little protection against the reuse of passwords that have been collected in other breaches.

The evolution of cyberattacks has also created entire ecosystems of fraud. Stolen personal health information, for example, could be used to gain insight to patients’ ailments and likely treatments. Hackers could use this information to obtain prescriptions for strictly controlled medication that is then traded or sold illegally. It’s no longer just about a straightforward cyberattack: cybercrime is fast becoming a trickle-down economic system with multiple layers of fraud and criminality built into its very fabric.

Intelligence becomes ‘intelligent’

Organisations will realise the importance of threat intelligence and will talk about the need for an intelligence function. What they really mean is that they want some insight from their vendors around the huge amounts of threat data they’re acquiring. There may be a handful organisations who will stop recasting threat data as intelligence and instead focus on generating actionable insights from this data, the prerequisite for ‘threat intelligence’. Unfortunately, the vast majority still won’t take any action from the data presented, which means they won’t actually have any intelligence –only an interesting storyline.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning will play a more prominent role as the velocity and variety of attacks makes conventional approaches – such as blacklists – outdated and ill-equipped to deal with modern cyber threats. The average phishing site, for example, is only online for a few hours. With such a crowded domain space, attackers have to be clever about the domains they register and exploit. Luckily, these domains generally have certain characteristics, which machine learning algorithms can exploit and detect, while other properties of attack vectors can also be recognised by appropriately trained AI.

AI will also be used to detect break-ins, spam, phishing and more. Although it will mostly work well, look out for the occasional mistake: these will be utterly incomprehensible to humans, and very hard for vendors to explain to their customers.

From financial gain to life-and-death

As our world becomes increasingly digitised and connected devices continue to permeate every aspect of our daily lives, the risks posed by cybercriminals are escalating. A large-scale attack on critical infrastructure such as energy services, water supplies or even hospitals could cause massive damage and even loss of life. Autonomous vehicles, although not prevalent on our shores yet, are attractive targets for the more ruthless type of cybercriminal. And with the growth in digital medical devices, hackers could directly target an individual and interfere with their pacemakers or heartrate monitors.

Privacy will also become a key concern: consumer connected devices such as cameras, microphones and wearables will become a major security issue as hackers discover ways to see live audio and video of unsuspecting people’s lives. The fallout of such an incident being exposed could drastically erode trust in technology and make people treat technology with greater caution as they realise the devices they have enjoyed without concern, carry immense risk to their personal privacy and security.

Even though the threat landscape keeps changing what seems to be the common thread is that email continues to be the most common – and least protected – attack vector. We can’t predict exactly what 2019 threats will look like, but we can predict that while email remains vulnerable it will continue to be the preferred entry point for criminals to deliver threats to your organisation.

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How to rob a bank in the 21st century

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In the early 1980s, South Africans were gripped by tales of the most infamous bank robbery gangs the country had ever known: The Stander Gang. The gang would boldly walk into banks, brandishing weapons, demand cash and simply disappear. These days, a criminal doesn’t even have to be in the same country as the bank he or she intends to rob. Cyber criminals are quite capable of emptying bank accounts without even stepping out of their own homes.

As we become more and more aware of cybersecurity and the breaches that can occur, we’ve become more vigilant. Criminals, however, are still going to follow the money and even though security may be beefed up in many organisations, hackers are going to go for the weakest links. This makes it quintessential for consumers and enterprises to stay one step ahead of the game.

“Not only do these cyber bank criminals get away with the cash, they also end up damaging an organisation’s reputation and the integrity of its infrastructure,” says Indi Siriniwasa, Vice President of Trend Micro, Sub-Saharan Africa. “And sometimes, these breaches mean they get away with more than just cash – they can make off with data and personal information as well.”

Because the cyber criminals operate outside bricks and mortar, going for the cash register or robbing the customers is not where their misdeeds end. Bank employees – from the tellers to the CEO – are all fair game.

But how do they do it? Taking money out of an account is not the only way to steal money. Cyber criminals can zero in on the bank’s infrastructure, or hack into payment systems and even payment documents. Part of a successful operation for them may also include hacking into telecommunications to gain access to one-time pins or mobile networks.

“It’s not just about hacking,” says Siriniwasa.. “It’s also about the hackers trying to get an ‘inside man’ in the bank who could help them or even using a person’s personal details to get a new SIM so that they can have access to OTPs. Of course, they also use the tried and tested method of phishing which continues to be exceptionally effective – despite the education in the market to thwart it.”

The amounts of malware and available attacks to gain access to bank funds is strikingly vast and varies from using web injection script, social engineering and even targeting internal networks as well as points of sale systems. If there is an internet connection and a system you can be assured that there is a cybercriminal trying to crack it. The impact on the bank itself is also massive, with reputations left in tatters and customers moving their business elsewhere.

“We see that cyber criminals use multi-faceted attacks,” says Siriniwasa. “This means that we need to come at security from multiple angles as well. Every single layer of an organisation’s online perimeter need to be secured. Threat isolation is exceptionally important and having security with intrusion protection is vital. Again, vigilance on the part of staff and customers also goes a long way to preventing attacks. These criminals might not carry guns like Andre Stander and his gang, but they are just as dangerous – in fact – probably more so.”

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Beaten by big data? AI is the answer

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by ZAKES SOCIKWA, cloud big data and analytics lead at Oracle

In 2019, it’sestimated we’ll generate more data than we did in the previous 5,000 years. Data is fast becoming the most valuable asset of any modern organisation, and while most have access to their internal data, they continue to experience challenges in deriving maximum value through being able to effectively monetise the information that they hold.

The foundation of any analytics or Business Intelligence (BI) reporting capability is an efficient data collection system that ensures events/transactions are properly recorded, captured, processed and stored. Some of this information on its own might not provide any valuable insights, but if it is analysed together with other sources might yield interesting patterns.

Big data opens up possibilities of enhancing internal sources with unstructured data and information from Internet of Things (IoT) devices. Furthermore, as we move to a digital age, more businesses are implementing customer experience solutions and there is a growing need for them to improve their service and personalise customer engagements.

The digital behaviour of customers, such as social media postings and the networks or platforms they engage with, further provides valuable information for data collection. Information gathering methods are being expanded to accommodate all types and formats of data, including images, videos, and more.

In the past, BI and Data Mining were left to highly technical and analytical individuals, but the introduction of data visualisation tools is democratising the analytics world. However, business users and report consumers often do not have a clear understanding of what they need or what is possible.

AI now embedded into day to day applications

To this end, artificial intelligence (AI) is finishing what business intelligence started. By gathering, contextualising, understanding, and acting on huge quantities of data, AI has given rise to a new breed of applications – one that’s continuously improving and adapting to the conditions around it. The more data that is available for the analysis, the better is the quality of the outcomes or predictions.

In addition, AI changes the productivity equation for many jobs by automating activities and adapting current jobs to solve more complex and time-consuming problems, from recruiters being able to source better candidates faster to financial analysts eliminating manual error-prone reporting.

This type of automation will not replace all jobs but will invent new ones. This enables businesses to reduce the time to complete tasks and the costs of maintenance, and will lead to the creation of higher-value jobs and new engagement models. Oracle predicts that by 2025, the productivity gains delivered by AI, emerging technologies, and augmented experiences could double compared to today’s operations.

According to the IDC, worldwide revenues for big data and business analytics (BDA) solutions was expected to total $166 billion in 2018, and forecast to reach $260 billion in 2022, with a compound annual growth rate of 11.9% over the 2017-2022 forecast period. It adds that two of the fastest growing BDA technology categories will be Cognitive/AI Software Platforms (36.5% CAGR) and Non-relational Analytic Data Stores (30.3% CAGR)¹.

Informed decisions, now and in the future

As new layers of technology are introduced and more complex data sources are added to the ecosystem, the need for a tightly integrated technology stack becomes a challenge. It is advisable to choose your technology components very carefully and always have the end state in mind.

More development on emerging technologies such as blockchain, AI, IoT, virtual reality and others will probably be available on cloud first before coming on premise. For those organisations that are adopting public cloud, there are opportunities to consume the benefits of public cloud and drive down costs of doing business.

While the introduction of public cloud is posing a challenge on data sovereignty and other regulations, technology providers such as Oracle have developed a ‘Cloud at Customer’ model that provides the full benefits of public cloud – but located on premise, within an organisation’s own data centre.

The best organisations will innovate and optimise faster than the rest. Best decisions must be made around choice of technology, business processes, integration and architectures that are fit for business. In the information marketplace, speed and informed decision making will be key differentiators amongst competitors.

¹ IDC Press Release, Revenues for Big Data and Business Analytics Solutions Forecast to Reach $260 Billion in 2022, Led by the Banking and Manufacturing Industries, According to IDC, 15 August 2018

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