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Internet technologies have been changing the landscape of the world we live and work in for some time now; this is nothing new. However, our almost complete reliance on this technology was solidified over the last year with the coming of the COVID-19 pandemic.
And while it seemed to some that the world had come to a stop with all of the lockdowns and lack of personal interactions that accompanied the earlier months of the pandemic, cybersecurity threats are evolving at an increasingly rapid pace.
The disruption caused to the workplace by the pandemic seemingly spurred innovation and growth in the cybercrime sector like never before, with new threats and updated mutations of old ones emerging almost on a daily basis.
With that in mind, let’s take a broad look at some of the key cybersecurity trends to be on the lookout for in 2021.
First, we’ll highlight and discuss what emerging threats and technologies need to be focused on and prioritized. Then we’ll turn our attention to what businesses need to do in order to make sure that their cybersecurity prevention plans and protocols are keeping pace with the expeditious evolution of cybercriminals.
Increased Remote Work Exposures
Nothing has worked in the favor of cybercriminals more than companies having to swiftly make the switch to a remote work environment. In fact, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that this shift to remote work is, in fact, the catalyst for just about every emerging or intensifying cybersecurity threat over the last year or so.
Since companies were forced to abruptly and quickly move to a remote work setting, many companies were forced to take the necessary steps to prepare for this new type of work atmosphere in a similarly rushed way.
This means that a rushed procurement of IT products and services needed to facilitate work-from-home situations and unplanned, hurried cloud migrations were par for the course for companies over the last year.
Furthermore, businesses were also tasked with creating and implementing new security measures that mirrored the shift in working circumstances, which were also rushed or performed partially by many organizations.
Couple all these organizational issues with the average employee’s already pronounced vulnerability to social engineering schemes and it’s easy to see how this needed but incredibly rushed shift to remote work created a perfect storm of cybersecurity risks for businesses.
If there is any good news it’s that a majority of companies have come to realize that remote work is here to stay, which should result in these companies realizing that a lot more money and time needs to be invested in adjusting to these circumstances and protecting their business properly from emerging cybersecurity threats.
Ransomware Continues to Reign
Recent research has confirmed that ransomware attacks have been the most prevalent form of cybercrime since the COVID-19 pandemic began. And in 2021 and beyond, it’s safe to assume that ransomware attacks aren’t going anywhere.
Cybercriminals love using ransomware because it’s very sophisticated, but also because they can make a lot of money from it. In fact, studies from 2020 show that recovering from a ransomware attack was more expensive on average than recovering from any other form of data breach, costing an average of $4.4 million per attack.
More and more ransomware attacks are focusing on what is called “double extortion.” First, cybercriminals will steal a company’s data and encrypt it so that the company cannot access it unless a ransom is paid to the cybercriminal, which is standard procedure for ransomware.
But now, cybercriminals are going one step further by blackmailing businesses, claiming that they will release private and sensitive information if the ransom is not paid. This gives cybercriminals additional assurance that businesses will comply and pay the ransom.
As for how ransomware attacks are being performed, the preferred method for cybercriminals is still phishing, relying on human error, and attempting to fool company employees into clicking a malicious link or installing malware.
One of the best examples of how cyber threats are constantly evolving—faster than cybersecurity experts can keep up—is the growing numbers of what cybersecurity experts refer to as “zero-day attacks.”
The zero-day attack is one of the prime examples of how the rate of cybercrimes is increasing simply because cybercriminals work much faster to find and exploit vulnerabilities than businesses can work to defend themselves.
Vulnerabilities are publicly reported at an unprecedented rate while companies can’t apply updates and patches as quickly as cybercriminals can develop an exploit to attack known vulnerabilities.
According to expert analysis, the discrepancy in speed is significant, with cybercriminals being able to develop an exploit within a week, while most companies take an average of 102 days to apply a patch to protect themselves from it.
The best businesses can do is make sure that they are constantly monitoring these types of situations and updating their security patches and software while constantly scanning and testing their systems to uncover vulnerabilities. Of course, with the rate at which these types of attacks are occurring, having response and recovery plans ready to go in the case of a zero-day exploit is also highly recommended.
Phishing Is Still a Huge Issue
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? That’s why cybercriminals are going to continue relying on phishing and social engineering schemes to infiltrate computer systems as long as these methods remain effective for them.
Not only is phishing still very effective, but it also remains one of the easiest ways for hackers to gain access to computer networks because it’s much simpler to trick someone into clicking a link and granting you access than it is to hack your way in manually.
Since the mass migration to work-from-home scenarios began, cybercriminals have been working on finding ways to implement phishing schemes in places that aren’t emails—places like company chat software and video conferencing tools—which employees believe to be completely safe and protected from outside threats.
The COVID-19 pandemic has given cybercriminals even more ammunition for phishing attacks. Whenever there’s a big issue affecting a large percentage of the population that is still fairly unexplored, that means that there are people all over the world searching the Internet to find out more about it.
This makes it very easy for cybercriminals to set up traps via content related to the pandemic. That includes methods such as sending fake emails telling people where they can get vaccinated to click-bait messages that talk about COVID-19 conspiracy theories or falsified information.
Hackers know that it’s a hot topic and are using the general public’s thirst for information related to the virus as a perfect trap for social engineering attacks.
Another trend caused by the pandemic is that the healthcare sector is being targeted by these attacks more than ever. According to a study conducted by Check Point Research, cyber attacks against hospitals increased by 45% worldwide in the last three months of 2020 alone.
Hospital employees and administrators are busier and more stressed-out than ever with the constant influx of COVID-19 cases, which makes them perfect targets. Fatigue at work and a lack of focus are exactly what cybercriminals want to see since it increases the chances that their targets will not recognize an attack.
More Sophisticated Artificial Intelligence
The growing sophistication and use of artificial intelligence (AI) is a double-edged sword. While it’s helping companies improve their security infrastructure, it’s helping cybercriminals automate and hone their attacks in equal measure.
Cyber security experts have been working with AI to automate their response to cyber attacks and replace the need for immediate human intervention when having to respond to an attack as quickly as possible. This is good news for companies that have small IT security teams and large companies that have an incredible amount of data to protect.
However, it’s no surprise that cybercriminals are also using AI to automate their attacks, enabling them to increase the speed and volume of their attacks. Regardless, working AI into your cybersecurity operations and protocols is and will continue to be a very worthwhile investment.
According to a recent IBM study, organizations that had AI technology fully deployed at the time a data breach was detected saved an average of $3.58 million per attack last year.
Greater Reliance on Cloud Solutions
Cloud adoption is another trend that has been rising steadily over the last several years but has been propelled greatly as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the shift to a work-from-home culture.
When all of a company’s employees are working from different locations, the company’s cloud systems and architecture need to be more flexible, accessible, scalable, and of course, better protected.
The biggest problem is just that, the fact that advancements in cloud security are lagging behind the rapid expansion in the adoption of cloud services.
One of the biggest challenges stems from the fact that companies, more often than not, get their cloud services from a number of different vendors, making the centralization of security processes just about impossible.
According to the aforementioned IBM report on data breaches, breaches that were the result of misconfigured cloud settings cost companies an average of $4.41 million in 2020.
Increase in Insider Threats
With the rise in remote work, you would think that companies would have to worry less about employee theft and other types of crimes that are directly related to their workforce. However, insider threats have become more prevalent over the past year, and here’s why.
While there are many benefits of being able to hire remotely, one drawback is the fact that you might not be able to gauge the trustworthiness of employees when meeting them virtually.
Granted, there’s no foolproof way to vet employees when meeting them in person either and employers can never be sure if an employee would be willing to steal from them or work with others to commit a crime that would damage the company financially, be it via embezzlement, fraud, or any other type of employee dishonesty.
A recent Insights report showed that 15% to 25% of security breach incidents are caused by trusted business partners, such as employees. The key takeaway should be that while it will be next to impossible to weed out potential threats through the hiring process, your company should have systems in place to quickly and thoroughly react to threats stemming from employee dishonesty as soon as they are detected or uncovered.
How Businesses Can Combat These Emerging Threats
While it might seem hard to remain optimistic in light of all the emerging cybersecurity threats we’ve witnessed over the last 20 months or so, there is good news. The good news is that opportunities for improving your cybersecurity are plentiful and easy to come by.
Now is the time to invest in designing and building cybersecurity plans for the future. Being proactive now will help organizations protect themselves from cybersecurity risks properly, effectively saving them money in the long run.
Today, it’s important to realize that cybersecurity is no longer an optional investment.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at a few of the most critical steps businesses need to take in order to make sure that they are properly protected from future cybersecurity threats, both in terms of prevention and recovery.
Invest in Training and Educating Your Staff
Creating a culture of awareness related to cybersecurity within your organization is, by far, the best and most powerful defense your company can build against emerging cyber threats. That’s why providing your employees—and any other collaborators that have access to your data—with proper and constantly refreshed training is so vital.
When your employees know how to not only recognize and identify threats but also react to them properly and on time, you’re immediately and significantly reducing the likelihood of a serious data breach occurring.
Employers that understand not just how important initial training and onboarding is, but also how absolutely vital it is to continuously update and reaffirm their cyber education efforts, will be rewarded with a company culture that excels in cybersecurity awareness.
Invest In Your Cybersecurity Team
Every company that deals with data should be investing in cybersecurity experts, and this can’t be stressed enough. Even if you’re a small company and don’t have the budget to hire experts in-house, make sure to prioritize outsourcing these ever-important services to cybersecurity agencies that will be able to keep you and your team protected.
According to this Cybersecurity Workforce study, organizations with 500 to 1,000 employees expanded their cybersecurity teams over the past year. However, 56% of the organizations polled reported a shortage of cybersecurity staff in 2020.
Long story short, hiring cybersecurity experts needs to be a priority for companies big and small moving forward.
Introduce Automation and Real-Time Data
As we’ve already touched on, AI and automation look to be the best way to combat the increasing sophistication of cyber attacks. The combination of automating your security and having real-time data available to your cybersecurity experts at all times will go a long way towards managing the efforts of protecting your most vital and sensitive data.
Attacks happen so quickly and so often today that security experts have no choice but to find a way to know where their data is located at all times and in real-time. Having a clear minute-by-minute picture of your data increases your security team’s operational efficiency and helps both mitigate data breaches and respond to them at lightning speed when they do occur.
Invest in Insurance
You’ve seen the statistics; recovering from a data breach is often an incredibly tedious, but also, super-expensive process. How do you think companies recover from million-dollar data breaches? Do they pay for everything out of pocket?
Usually, businesses that deal with a lot of sensitive digital data are wise enough to procure a business insurance policy that can offer them financial aid and protection in the event of a costly cyber attack.
The number one insurance product that caters to these risks is called a cyber liability insurance policy. And while every cyber policy can be tailored to meet the specific needs of the company that’s purchasing it, there are some standard things that one will cover, including:
- Data loss, recovery, and recreation processes
- Loss of revenue due to a breach and ensuing business interruption
- Computer fraud
- Cyber extortion ransom
One of the reasons that data breaches are so expensive is because they can potentially affect a huge number of people, not just the company that has been attacked. That’s why third-party cyber policies are sold to cover things such as notification costs, civil damages, lawsuits, forensics, and even PR efforts in response to reputational damage caused by the cyber attack.
A proper cyber liability policy helps businesses to weather the significant financial storm of such an event, both in terms of covering their costs and paying damages to third parties that have been affected by the breach.
If you’d like to learn more about cyber liability insurance or talk to an experienced broker that can help put together the perfect policy for your business at the right price, don’t hesitate to reach out to our team of expert brokers at any time.
Practice good work-from-home cybersecurity hygiene to keep yourself, your family, and your employees safe. Learn more by reading our tips.