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The digital acceleration that occurred last year will continue to have far-reaching effects when it comes to cyber security. Security Boulevard predicts the global cost of cyber crime will reach $11 million per minute by 2021. According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, data breaches decreased 30 percent in 2020 because cyber crooks are focusing on attacks that require logins and passwords to gain access to corporate networks for ransomware or Business Email Compromise (BEC) scams.

Social engineering will become more sophisticated and remain a prominent tool used in all forms of phishing attacks. Social media has contributed to the wealth of free information available about individuals and organizations making it easier to profile potential targets with credible details prior to launching an attack. By employing technology to gather this data, crooks can effectively create highly targeted spear phishing attacks. In November 2020 Proofpoint reported SMiShing attacks had increased more than 300%. In August 2020 the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) warned of a substantial increase in scams originating on social media. No topic is off limits to the intruders. Pandemic-related topics, such as testing, contact tracing and vaccines, will continue to be used as lures.

In July 2020 Forbes reported that an audit of the Dark Web, the portion of the Internet that uses anonymity tools to hide network addresses, revealed that 15 billion stolen logins and passwords from 100,000 cyber breaches are in circulation. This data can be bought for mere pennies making it critical to use multi-factor authentication (MFA) whenever it is available. WatchGuard boldly predicts any service without MFA is highly likely to be compromised in 2021.

In Q3-2020 Check Point Research saw a 50% increase in the global daily average of ransomware attacks as compared to the first half of the year. Ransomware tactics have become increasingly aggressive. Traditional ransomware attacks denied access to systems and data. The methodology, however, has evolved to include double extortion with crooks threatening to leak the data if ransom is not paid. In addition, cyber criminals are offering to deploy ransomware as a one-time or ongoing service. Alternatively, security firms have begun offering ransomware brokering services to negotiate with attackers. Healthcare remains an alluring target due to the urgency associated with accessing records and systems, which increases the likelihood of paying a ransom.    

Rapidly transitioning to remote learning along with the outsourcing of distance learning tools likely resulted in cyber security gaps making educational institutions vulnerable to attack. A December alert from the National Cyber Awareness System warned that kindergarten through twelfth grade (K-12) educational institutions are being targeted for ransomware attacks, data theft, and disruption of distance learning through 2021. 

The Internet of Things (IoT) will continue to expand and be combined with the Internet of Behaviors (IoB). The IoB uses the data collected via the IoT to build a profile from multiple sources and intelligently anticipate human behaviors. The IoB is still in the infancy stage but has the potential to become an essential sales and marketing tool. It remains to be seen how ethical questions will be resolved.      

Deepfakes have the potential to fundamentally change how the world is perceived. As quality improves, discerning truth from fiction becomes more difficult. In October 2020 Adobe announced the pre-release of a content attribution tool that provides an audit trail of a photo including the author’s name, location, and a history of the photo edits. 

Cyber espionage and attacks by nation states are becoming more advanced. In December 2020 the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA) issued an emergency directive regarding a global hack of the SolarWinds Orion suite of business software products. Concurrently, Reuters reported that a National Security Council meeting was held at the White House on a Saturday because hackers allegedly working for Russia have been monitoring internal traffic at the United States Treasury and Commerce Departments. It appears that the compromise began in March 2020 and was accomplished via a supply chain attack when malware was hidden in the body of legitimate software updates that were then provided to targets via a third party. Orion software is widely used by the United States government and companies worldwide to monitor their networks. The extent of this hack is still unknown, and it underscores the enormous risk posed by third-party vendors.

These items are merely a snippet of today’s cyber security challenges. Keeping pace with the increasing number of constantly evolving threats will continue to be a demanding but vital focus for us all in 2021.