Business Technology

Cyber security attacks to be aware of for the near future

7 min read

12 January 2017

With various online cyber security attacks experienced across last year, these are the near future predictions to be aware of for your business.

Between the controversial DNC email leak, theft of $81m from a Bangladesh bank, disclosure of two giant Yahoo! hacks and the DDoS attack that took down much of the internet, 2016 has seen an unprecedented wave of cyber security attacks.

It is clear that cyber cyber security attacks are evolving fast and defenders need to keep apace.

By analysing current security trends, we can try to gauge what the cyber security attacks of the future will look like. Here are three predictions for 2017:

(1) Attackers will undermine data integrity

We should expect a shift in the criminal business model to start affecting strategic business decisions, instead of just witnessing cyber security attacks stealing data.

Critical infrastructure providers are often cited as targets for hacktivists that might wish to, for instance, turn off an oil rig.

Instead of targeting the oil rig itself, it is possible for cyber security attacks to hide smart malware in the geophysical survey databases able to change the underlying data, so that the multi-million pound drilling rights are bought in the wrong places and many oil rigs come up drier than expected.

If you think the survey database is too well protected, you could attack the ocean sensors (Internet of Things) that are collecting the data in the first place, to ensure you are able to influence the decisions right from the start of the “information supply chain”.

This is just one example of how attackers could cause damage by undermining the integrity of data. But ultimately, any business that makes strategic decisions based on data is equally vulnerable, such as the financial services sector.

On the next page, read on for the dangers and benefits of artificial intelligence and machine learning when it comes to cyber security attacks.

(2) Artificial intelligence will fuel crime

Eventually, AI problem-solving software will allow attackers to automatically find more security holes in the systems and applications we all use and rely on, on a daily basis.

We should be ready for a flurry of new updates to our existing technologies as holes and abuses are discovered.

Businesses will need mechanisms for detecting unusual activity within their digital enterprise as these new cyber security attacks will defeat defences looking for “known” attack behaviours.

This will be particularly painful when it impacts businesses that can’t modernise very quickly.

In the nearer term, we should expect huge improvements in criminal “spear-phishing” targeted emails. Imagine your laptop has malicious software running on it, which can read and, crucially, understand all your emails, messages, chats, contacts and calendar.

It can then contact your friends, co-workers, customers and suppliers in a way that is contextually relevant, and in a manner that sounds like you.

Perhaps you have a diary appointment with a client; the malware can send a map to that client with the location of where you have planned to meet and include a malicious copy of itself.

Or maybe you are editing a document back-and-forth with a co-worker; the malware can include itself in the document and send it back to your co-worker with accompanying text that is in line with how you normally converse.

This is a security nightmare, as the malicious emails will be unique and coming from your real accounts, devices and servers. I have no doubt this will explode across supply chains at some point, and if you want to get to a hard target, for example, into part of a global bank or to a celebrity, this might be the best way of doing it.

In addition to criminals being able to monitor our digital communications like emails, they will become better able to survey us in homes and workplaces through “ambient” monitoring.

We are reaching a point where smartphone cameras and software can recognise written text in milliseconds. Imagine malicious software that can “see” all the documents, whiteboards, computer screens as you walk around with your smartphone normally; and further, it is trained to recognise the types of information that the criminal wants to receive e.g. passwords, sensitive commercial information, designs etc.

The same will become true of audio. So we will be in a position where, not only can our devices be “seeing” and “recording”, but they can intelligently process this information to find what is interesting and then quietly smuggle out the important parts, in a way that reduces the chances of getting caught.

(3) Machine learning will empower defenders

As the cyber arms race continues, we are likely to see virtual battles between machines. However, I believe that the benefits of machine learning favour defenders more than attackers in the long run.

Fundamentally, the hard thing about being a defender is dealing with the complexity of all your unique people and their unique ways of working with increasing amounts of technology.

As machine learning assists us in understanding all of these people and behaviours in a really detailed and complex way, it will become very hard for cyber security attacks to slip in unnoticed.

Additionally, we are moving into an era where defences will be able to make smart decisions without human intervention based on a detailed contextual understanding of everything happening in the business, both now and historically.

So although the criminals will benefit from new business models and despite inevitable bumps along the way, the defender community is well-positioned to make the most of these technological advances – and they shouldn’t delay.

Dave Palmer is director of technology at Darktrace

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