A look back at 2017’s cybersecurity trends and a look ahead to 2018
There’s a reason so many New Year’s Eve parties involve free-flowing champagne and other buckets of booze, and that’s because looking back at a year gone by can be an un-fun thing, and looking ahead to the next one can be equally daunting. So while cybersecurity isn’t normally a topic that might inspire you to grab a beer or pour a glass of wine, if there is a time for it, it would be now. Here are the top cybersecurity (or lack of cybersecurity) trends from 2017, and a peek at what 2018 might have in store.
2017 in review: ransom here, ransom there, ransom ransom everywhere
If nothing else, 2017 will go down as the year ransomware became a part of the Average Joe and Jill’s lexicon. It remains to be seen if the year meets or exceeds the $5 billion in ransomware damages initially predicted, but if there were a record available for number of organizations and individuals affected by ransomware in a single year, rest assured that this year would have blown it out of the water and then shot it in the air for good measure.
WannaCry, Petya and Bad Rabbit were three of the biggest and most widespread ransomware attacks of the year, locking up the computers of everyone from individual internet users to major organizations like Britain’s National Health Service to massive enterprises like FedEx. Incidents of mobile ransomware have also skyrocketed, rising 250% and smashing the US the hardest. This on top of the regular old ransomware attacks that target businesses and individuals every day – 4000 per day in 2016.
A peek at 2018: Every new high-profile ransomware attack learns from the one that came before it, and with these attacks raking in the Bitcoin and gaining the groups behind them worldwide infamy, there’s no reason to expect ransomware attacks to slow down. That means in 2018 we could be looking at even more ransomware attacks that are harder to stop – no handy kill switches for Marcus Hutchins to hit. Great.
2017 in review: gone phishin’
Phishing, spear phishing, whaling. The FBI groups these attack types together under the catchy category of business email compromise scams, and with their new levels in targeting and sophistication, they have become one of the major problems facing organizations in 2017, with phishing and malicious attachments in email ranking as the top cause of data breaches.
Phishing is the general term for any attempt to fool targets into sharing sensitive information, spear phishing is a targeted attack in which the attack is personalized to the intended victim with the email being sent from what appears to be a known or trusted sender, and whaling is an attempt to get a high-worth executive to transfer money to a fraudulent account. These are not the Nigerian prince missives of a few years ago; these are scarily convincing emails, ones that can cause a university to send almost $12 million to fraudulent accounts.
A peek at 2018: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. At least that’s how cyber attackers will see it. Phishing scams are only getting more sophisticated – as well as more effective. Organizations will need to start prioritizing cybersecurity education and awareness throughout the entire organization, not just the security operations center, if there is a hope of keeping these attacks from becoming even more profitable.
2017 in review: pain in the Ukraine
In June, Ukranian officials and average citizens alike came to realize that what may have at first seemed like a simple internet outage was actually an attack so huge it required a whole new name – a Massive Coordinated Cyber Invasion. This country-wide attack took down the nation’s power grid, government ministries, banks, postal service, media organizations, mobile providers and Kiev airport. This was a shocking display of what a cyber invasion on a nation is actually capable of. Some experts have speculated that a certain nation state was behind the attack (yes, Russia,) and that the attack constituted the use of a cyberweapon.
A peek at 2018: There have been warnings for years that cyber attacks could begin to target critical infrastructure, and those warnings have proved accurate. There are many words for what went on in the Ukraine but the number one term has to be scary. In addition to the chaos an attack like this causes, taking out the power grid in some climates during certain times of the year could be disastrous, even deadly, and while many nations have emergency plans in place for things like natural disasters, it’s unclear how prepared many are for a cyber attack of this size and nature. The attack on the Ukraine is a harbinger of worse things to come, it’s just a matter of whether they will come in 2018.
2017 in review: a big fat facepalm for people
Some of the most shocking cyber attacks and incidents of the year were allowed to happen because of mistakes made, plain and simple. The Equifax data breach that affected 143 million Americans occurred because a known website application vulnerability went unpatched for over two months, Verizon had upwards of 14 million customers’ personal information exposed to the web because a default privacy setting was unchecked on a database, and a marketing firm hired by the Republican National Committee failed to protect the personal information of 198 million American voters with even a password. And those are just a few choice examples of the disasters caused by fundamental failures of cybersecurity.
A peek at 2018: Looking on the bright side you could say that the more these disasters happen and are publicized, the more careful organizations will be with their data storage and cybersecurity. Maybe! But organizations are already struggling to fill cybersecurity positions and that workforce shortage is only going to get worse, so expect next year’s look back to include another batch of devastating oopsie-daises.
Auld lang sigh
It’s going to take more than a collective New Year’s resolution from governments, organizations and internet users around the world to prioritize cybersecurity to actually tackle any of the above trends head on, but that would be a good start. More than enough cybersecurity professionals to fill those open positions would qualify as a great start, but this is about making a New Year’s resolution, not wishing upon a star. Have a second drink, why don’t you.