Check Point states that the effects of the changes introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to be a key focus for organisations’ IT and security teams. 81% of enterprises have adopted mass remote working for their employees, with 74% planning to enable it permanently. The company is also warning of emerging ransomware and botnet threats, and the challenges of securing new 5G networks and the explosion in connected devices it will power.
“The COVID-19 pandemic derailed business-as-usual for virtually every organisation, forcing them to set aside their existing business and strategic plans, and quickly pivot to delivering secure remote connectivity at massive scale for their workforces. Security teams also had to deal with escalating threats to their new cloud deployments, as hackers sought to take advantage of the pandemic’s disruption: 71% of security professionals reported an increase in cyber-threats since lockdowns started,” said Dr. Dorit Dor, Vice President of Products at Check Point Software Technologies.
“One of the few predictable things about cyber-security is that threat actors will always seek to take advantage of major events or changes – such as COVID-19, or the introduction of 5G – for their own gain. To stay ahead of threats, organisations must be proactive and leave no part of their attack surface unprotected or unmonitored, or they risk becoming the next victim of sophisticated, targeted attacks.”
Check Point’s cyber-security predictions for 2021 are broken down into three categories: COVID-19 related developments; malware, privacy and cyber-conflicts; and emerging 5G and IoT platforms.
- Securing the ‘next normal’: In 2021, Covid-19 will still be impacting our lives, businesses and societies, and those impacts will change as the year progresses. So we need to be ready for a series of ‘next normals’ as we respond to those changes. Following the rush to remote working, organisations need to better secure their new distributed networks and cloud deployments to keep their applications and data protected. This means enforcing and automating threat prevention at all points of the network – from employees’ mobiles and endpoints, to IoT devices, to clouds – to stop advanced attacks from spreading rapidly across organisations, and exploiting weaknesses to breach sensitive data. Automating prevention will be critical, as 78% of organisations say they have a cyber-skills shortage.
- No cure for COVID – related exploits: As COVID-19 will continue to dominate headlines, news of vaccine developments or new national restrictions will continue to be used in phishing campaigns, as they have been through 2020. The pharma companies developing vaccines will also continue to be targeted by malicious attacks from criminals or nation-states looking to exploit the situation.
- School’s out – targeting remote learning: Schools and universities have pivoted to large-scale use of e-learning platforms, so perhaps it’s no surprise that the sector experienced a 30% increase in weekly cyber-attacks during the month of August, in the run up to the start of new semesters. Attacks will continue to disrupt remote learning activities over the coming year.
Malware, privacy and cyber-war
- Double extortion increases the ransomware stakes: Q3 of this year saw a sharp rise in double-extortion ransomware attacks: hackers first extract large amounts of sensitive data, prior to encrypting a victim’s databases. Then attackers threaten to publish that data unless ransom demands are paid, putting extra pressure on organisations to meet hackers’ demands.
- The botnet army will continue to grow: Hackers have developed many malware families into botnets, to build armies of infected computers with which to launch attacks. Emotet, the most commonly-used malware in 2020, started as a banking trojan but has evolved to become one of the most persistent and versatile botnets, capable of launching a range of damaging exploits, from ransomware to data theft.
- Nation shall attack nation: Cyber-attacks by nation states will continue to grow, for espionage or to influence events in other countries. Microsoft reported that threat actors from just three countries launched 89% of nation-state hacking incidents over the past year. Over recent years, the focus has been on securing national critical infrastructure, and while this remains essential, it’s also important to recognise the impact of attacks against other state sectors. These include national healthcare organisations and Government departments, such as March 2020’s Vicious Panda campaign targeting Mongolia.
- Weaponising deepfakes: Techniques for fake video or audio are now advanced enough to be weaponised and used to create targeted content to manipulate opinions, stock prices or worse. Earlier this year, a political group in Belgium released a deepfake video of the Belgian prime minister giving a speech linking COVID-19 to environmental damage and calling for action on climate change. Many viewers believed the speech was real. At a simpler level, audio could be faked for voice phishing – so that a CEO’s voice could be forged to bypass voice authentication.
- Privacy? What privacy?: For many people, their mobile devices are already giving away much more personal information than they realise, thanks to apps demanding broad access to peoples’ contacts, messages and more. This has been magnified with buggy COVID-19 contact-tracing apps, which have privacy problems, leaking data about individuals. And that’s just legitimate apps: mobile malware targeting users’ banking credentials and committing click-fraud on adverts is a major growing threat.
New 5G and IoT platforms
- 5G benefits and challenges: The totally connected, high-speed world promised by 5G also gives criminals and hackers opportunities to launch attacks and cause disruption by targeting that connectivity. E-health devices will collect data about users’ well-being, connected car services will monitor users’ movements, and smart city applications will collect information about how users live their lives. This massive volume of data from always-on, 5G devices will need to be protected against breaches, theft and tampering to ensure privacy and security against attacks, especially as a lot of this data will bypass corporate networks and their security controls.
- Internet of Threats: As 5G networks roll out, the numbers of connected IoT devices will massively expand – drastically increasing networks’ vulnerability to large scale, multi-vector cyber-attacks. IoT devices and their connections to networks and clouds, are still a weak link in security: it’s hard to get complete visibility of devices, and they have complex security requirements. We need a more holistic approach to IoT security, with a combination of traditional and new controls to protect these ever-growing networks across all industry and business sectors.