This year has been unlike any other in living memory, barely any aspects of our lives have been spared by the impact of the worst public health crisis in decades.
The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic shifted the way we lead our day-to-day, laying bare to our collective fragility, while greatly heightening our sense of uncertainty. The effects of which will have a long-lasting aftertaste of how our reality has changed, as well as in the unforeseeable future.
The seismic shift caused by the pandemic, also fueled our embrace of technology by increasing our reliance on connectivity and pushing digital transformation into overdrive. Yet, with this reliance on the digital realm, comes risks and potential threats looking to take advantage of the situation.
Reports and breaking news stories throughout the year proved that cybercriminals were quick to adapt to this new norm, exploiting the pandemic and remote working circumstances to profit.
While most of the cybersecurity trends that emerged throughout the year will likely spill over into 2021, there is no definitive way to pinpoint how the cybersecurity landscape will look like a year from now.
However, by monitoring the current events that shaped this year, experts can foresee the areas that will be affected by cyberattacks, as well as the practices that will persist.
Let’s jump right in.
1- Remote workers will remain targeted
Remote workers are the golden nugget of cybercriminals far and wide, which is why they’ll continue being the prime targets for hackers. The reason behind this is due to them operating and using their own devices and Wi-Fi connection to conduct their work.
Home networks aren’t as fortified as their corporate counterparts, at the end of the day, no one has an IT team hanging about in their closet. In parallel, a large number of businesses weren’t properly prepared for the shift to remote work, making homebound workers easier to target.
According to a report published by VMware, a U.S.-based cybersecurity software company, global organizations saw a 148 percent spike in ransomware attacks in March of 2020, just when businesses began to make the shift to remote work.
“Attackers have been using COVID-19 to launch phishing attacks, fake apps/maps, trojans, backdoors, crypto miners, botnets and ransomware,” the report explained.
2- Automation for all the wrong reasons
To deal with the slash in profits, companies have been scrambling to find ways to put security solutions and their remote staff on the same table, signaling the use of hyper automation.
Hyper automation consists of integrating artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and robot process automation (RPA) to automate their processes or any other task.
According to market estimates, artificial intelligence in the cybersecurity market is projected to grow from USD 8.8 billion in 2019 to USD 38.2 billion by 2026 at a CAGR of 23.3 percent.
Hackers have taken note of this and have started to develop their very own software disguised as an AI-automation software. Tricking remote workers to install this fake software will allow cybercriminals to pinpoint areas of defense, while marking vulnerabilities.
Using the data gathered by the software, it gives hackers the know-how to slip past or attack similar defensive software.
This is dangerous in every sense of the word since it allows attackers to subtly slip through the cracks faster and at a much stealthier rate; they’ll know before they attack what they are looking for, what to avoid, and how to escape unnoticed.
3- The rise of 5G
Our online behavior changes each year, with every new emergence of technologies that heavily impact our lives. And as the fifth generation of mobile networks begins to softly rollout internationally, our reliance on cloud-based systems grows.
Both B2B and B2C sectors will soon have the opportunity, and later be mandated, to shift toward 5G data management technology. According to Leftronic, 5G is expected to cover almost 40 percent of the world by 2024 with data transfer speeds of up to 10GB/s.
While there exists a plethora of reasons as to how 5G will better our lives, the same could be said about the potential risks that may accompany it.
High-speed data transfers will equip hackers with the ability to infect data packets and conduct corporate espionage at a much faster and subtle rate. Companies will need to revamp and beef up their cybersecurity teams to maintain a high level of security and surveillance for their sensitive data.
According to Cybersecurity Ventures, the cybersecurity talent crunch is expected to create 3.5 million unfilled cybersecurity jobs by 2021, up by 350 percent from 1 million positions in 2014.
4- Cloud attacks
While businesses across the globe were slowly migrating their work to the cloud in pre-COVID times, the pandemic acted as a catalyst for the same, as it acted as a notable ally to ensure business continuity across the board.
According to IDC, the global cloud services market spending is projected to reach USD 1 trillion in 2024, at a CAGR of 15.7 percent during the forecast period 2020-24.
Cloud-based security threats, including misconfigured cloud storage, reduced visibility and control, incomplete data deletion, and vulnerable cloud-apps, will continue to disrupt businesses in the future ahead.
5- IoT security concerns
With 5G’s slow ascension to power brings with it a myriad of technological advancements within its entourage, and the hardest hitter among them is the Internet of Things (IoT).
IoT is on the rise not only for commercial use, but also on the B2B end, most notably in the industrial sector which has laid the ground for transformations in critical infrastructures such as healthcare, automotive, maritime, shipping, and much more.
While this will help shape and fuel the digital revolution, in parallel, it opens the door for many risks and breaches on the cybersecurity level.
“Not only is more data being shared through the IoT, among many more participants, but more sensitive data is being shared. As a result, the risks are exponentially greater,” a report by Deloitte highlighted.
According to American research and advisory firm Gartner, there will be 25 billion Internet-connected things by 2020, and close to $2 trillion of economic benefit globally. That’s a lot of IoT devices and the biggest question is, can tech companies secure all these objects from threats?
A single compromised node can be leveraged to break into corporate networks with severe consequences. Insecure designs and architectures will result in non-encrypted personal data, hardcoded passwords, software, and firmware updates from unverified sources.
This means every IoT design should start with security. Giant tech firms as well as startups should incorporate security into the initial design process, while adding layers of security to protect people from the cyberattacks vis-à-vis giving them more control over the devices themselves.
6- Data, the new oil
Every single click, swipe, visit, and view is the creation of data, a digital footprint that gets bigger and bigger year-in and year-out translating into a company’s most prized possession; and as they broaden this footprint, hackers will remain resolute in their attempt to breach that data.
Thus, the easiest way to access this sensitive data is through the remote workers operating on weakly-protected home networks. From there, experts foresee the increase in VPN usage as well as additional security measures to protect company data while they work from home.
According to Cisco, since the beginning of the pandemic one of the top policy changes made in organizations has been to increase VPN capacity (59 percent) for remote workers.
7- FinTech under fire
The financial industry is considered one of the most threatened sectors in terms of cybersecurity for obvious reasons. Just take a moment and think back to how many data breaches has happened this year solely on financial institutions.
The reasons behind these breaches are always different, from the rogue employee, to the vigilante hacker, only one person is enough to cause significant damage to a financial corporation’s business.
According to Fortunly, cybersecurity investments in Fintech have grown to $646.2 million in 2020, more than double of what businesses spent on IT in 2019.
Thus, companies need to be wearier regarding their assessment of risks, while putting in place air-tight security reforms that protect not only their business models, but their customers’ sensitive data as well.
Hence, a balanced innovation is needed that promotes the growth of the fintech industry and mitigates the hidden risks of its services.
As the COVID-19 battle seems to be at its end with the creation of several vaccines, the experience of the pandemic should serve as a harsh lesson for decision-makers to make the necessary changes going forward.