Recent Digital Landscape Changes Are Affecting Cybersecurity

Take a closer look at the major digital landscape changes in recent years and the related cyber threats that businesses must adapt to in order to survive into the future.

The latest cybercrime statistics seem to suggest that cybersecurity is an endless crisis. Cybercrime has risen to a level where it represents the most significant transfer of economic wealth in history – raking in $2 trillion globally in 2021, then surged to $8.44 trillion in 2022… and this number is expected to reach a staggering $23.84 trillion by 2027. Clearly, the bad guys are winning. And as victims pick up what is left of their once thriving enterprise, they always seem to ask—how could this happen?

The answer is simple—we are slow to adapt to the changing digital landscape while criminals are quick to exploit it and wreak havoc. As the saying goes, “If nothing changes, nothing will change.” Your digital security architecture must transform with the threat environment to stay resilient from cyberattacks and prepare to survive in the current cyber threat landscape. Take a closer look at the major digital landscape changes that businesses must adapt to survive in 2024 and beyond.

 

Cybercrime Has Grown from Individual Hackers to Global Crime Networks

What started as a few highly skilled hackers in a tiny corner of the dark web has quickly evolved into a large-scale outsourcing business. Cyber Crime-as-a-Service or CCaaS is described as a highly organized and commercialized skill trade where cybercriminals, malware developers, and other threat actors sell their cybercrime services to their “customers.”

Many criminals now enjoy the equivalent (and lucrative) compensation of a high-level corporate job, right along with the same kinds of benefits and bonuses. Cybercrime has quickly evolved from “lone-wolf” hackers to well-funded, professionalized and highly technical organizations. 

Consider the alarming surge of State-Sponsored Attacks in the past months. The 2022 Microsoft Digital Defense Report (MDDR) reported that the proportion of cyberattacks perpetrated by nation states jumped from 20% to 40% from 2021. This was largely due to Russia’s heavy attacks on Ukraine’s critical infrastructure, as well as aggressive espionage targeting Ukraine’s allies, including the US. That number remained steady, showing only a marginal increase in the 2023 MDDR. However, that also means things are not improving.

State-Sponsored Attacks (SSAs) are carried out by cybercriminals directly linked to nation-states, with the goal of identifying and exploiting national infrastructure vulnerabilities, gathering intelligence, and exploiting the target nation’s systems and people for money.

One might think that a foreign state would leave businesses alone and just attack the target nation’s government and/or military. However, directly hacking a government or military system is significantly more complex, requires more resources, and, if detected, could even be treated as an act of war. Attacking entities that are closely tied to the economy is a somewhat safer course of action for state-sponsored cybercrime networks.

 

An Ongoing Digital Transformation Will Keep Expanding the Attack Surface

Users, devices, applications and data have left the traditional office and data center. In the post-pandemic world of work, the perimeter no longer exists. The distributed environment that supports access from everywhere, makes it difficult to separate benign from malicious activity. A security-first approach to digital transformation provides trusted access by your workforce, clients, business partners and things.

For example, your security and identity deployments consist of multiple tools that often are not fully integrated. In some cases, there are multiple tools that may duplicate supporting functions. Operating these tools requires many separate dashboards, multiple policy administration points and maintaining many ad hoc integrations. This problem is exacerbated when new security or identity needs surface and new categories of tools are invented. There are too many separate tools with too many separate dashboards.

This complexity increases risk to the company’s digital infrastructure from evolving threats. Cybersecurity solutions enable stand-alone tools to work together in complementary ways to improve overall security posture by standardizing the way the tools interconnect.

 

Distributed Network = Greater Need for Compliance

No data protection regulation anywhere in the world expects your business to have a 100 percent perfect and foolproof plan for fighting cybersecurity threats. However, your business is definitely expected to install all the necessary checks and balances that make up a resilient defense and to appropriately prioritize data security. 

Should your business ever undergo a security breach and you fail to produce satisfactory evidence about undertaking preventive data security measures, you could find yourself in serious trouble. Two of the most common consequences you could face would be your cyber insurance provider’s refusal to pay for damages and a regulatory body initiating punitive action against your business.

With a growing number of endpoints in a distributed network, it is vital to map out a meticulous strategy to implement data security measures and make your business resilient to cybersecurity threats. Below are some of the data security measures and best practices you can start with:

  • Asset Discovery and Management – Ensuring every single information asset and device on your network is accounted for and managed.

  • Identity and Access Management (IAM) – Efforts undertaken to define, maintain and authenticate access to your network, especially from remote users, to avoid any unauthorized access.

  • Data Discovery and Classification – Discovering and documenting the type of data your business collects, where it is stored and how it is processed, to determine a risk matrix.

  • Ongoing Risk Management – The act of gauging the risks your business data faces on a regular basis, including third-party risks, and carrying out remediation efforts proactively.

  • Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery – Acquiring robust tools to back up and recover data following an unsavory incident and testing them regularly.

  • Incident Response Plan (IRP) – A comprehensive plan to identify a security incident, contain it, notify your clients/customers about it, recover from it and document learnings from it.

 

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is Changing the Phishing Game

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last year, you are probably already aware of how the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) has changed the world in which we live. Unfortunately, not all of those changes have been for the better. AI has been a game changer when it comes to worker productivity, but it has also done the same thing for bad actors tha use phishing as an attack vector.

The main reason AI has changed the threat landscape of phishing has to do with the traditional tells and “red flags” that have made these sorts of emails easier to detect. One of the biggest tells used to spot phishing emails have been things such as misspellings, poor grammar, fuzzy images, etc. Now, however, cybercriminals are using AI to generate the text of these emails, meaning they are free of spelling errors and grammar mistakes. They can also use AI to generate clean images. As a result, spotting them has become much harder. Users must now verify any suspicious or unexpected email (or honestly, almost any email with a link or attachment) with the sender before clicking, as the old detection methods no longer work.

 

Ransomware is Getting Harder to Detect & Avoid

Ransomware has been a persistent threat that’s been responsible for a multitude of data breaches over the last decade. In recent years, unfortunately, ransomware has become more challenging to detect and avoid due to several factors:

  • Increased Sophistication: Ransomware attacks have grown in sophistication, with attackers using advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) for faster threat detection. There’s also a trend towards complete automation of malware campaigns.

  • Exploitation of Vulnerabilities: Attackers have been quick to exploit vulnerabilities in software. For instance, the CL0P Ransomware Gang exploited a SQL injection vulnerability in Progress Software’s MOVEit Transfer web application, compromising as many as 20 million accounts.

  • Double Extortion Tactics: Attackers have employed the “double extortion” tactic. Not only will your files remain encrypted and inaccessible to you, but your organization will also be “named and shamed” when the attacker leaks stolen data and publicizes details of who and what was attacked.

  • Emergence of Small Hacker Groups: There’s been a proliferation of small, emerging groups of hackers who are leveraging widely available source code to create their own ransomware.

  • People and Processes: Most of the challenges in preventing ransomware have been related to people and processes, as social engineering and phishing are often used as attack vectors. This highlights the importance of not just technology, but also the need for having the right people and processes in place to prevent a ransomware incident.

Despite these challenges, organizations are investing in advanced technologies and services to safeguard their networks. This includes implementing AI and ML for faster threat detection, central monitoring for speedy response, and endpoint detection and response (EDR) and secure email gateway (SEG) solutions. Protecting credentials with multi-factor authentication (MFA) and installing services to prevent escalation of privileges are also crucial.

 

Supply Chain Attacks Will Continue (& likely worsen)

Supply chain attacks have become increasingly common in recent years, and it seems like the problem will continue to get worse before it gets better. It seems like every week there is a new one being reported in the news. Just recently, in fact, a “nightmare scenario” supply chain hack was experienced by multiple entities and their customers after a contributor to an open-source project used by most Linux distributions (more on the role of open-source consumption in supply chain attacks can be found in the list below) inserted an exploitable backdoor in the two most recent versions of XZ Utils, a set of free software command-line lossless data compressors, including the programs lzma and XZ, for UNIX-like operating systems and, for v5.0 and beyond, Microsoft Windows.

Supply chain attacks have become more widespread in recent years due to several reasons:

  • Increased Sophistication: The number of documented supply chain attacks involving malicious third-party components has increased by 633% in 2022. This is due to the increased sophistication of these attacks, with attackers leveraging advanced technologies and techniques.

  • Exploitation of Vulnerabilities: Attackers have been quick to exploit vulnerabilities in software. For instance, the Log4Shell vulnerability discovered in November 2021 in Log4j, a widely popular open-source Java library, was used by attackers to gain access to organizations that did not apply available patches or workarounds.

  • Rise in Open-Source Consumption: The average year-over-year growth in package downloads from the top component repositories is 33%. This increase in open-source consumption has led to a corresponding rise in supply chain attacks. You’ve probably already noticed that open-source projects are often associated with these attacks.

  • Lack of Visibility and Awareness: Many organizations lack the necessary visibility and awareness about their complex supply chains. This makes it difficult for them to respond effectively to supply chain attacks.

  • Increased Impact: The average number of supply chain breaches that negatively impact organizations increased by 26% from 2022 to 2023. This increased impact has made supply chain attacks more attractive to attackers.

Despite these challenges, some organizations are already taking more proactive steps to protect against supply chain attacks. This includes initiatives to secure the software supply chain by private organizations, software repository managers, the Linux Foundation, and government bodies. All supply chain organizations, however, need to be doing the same.

 

Even Data Backups Are Now Being Targeted

A survey of almost 3,000 IT and cybersecurity professionals from organizations that suffered ransomware attacks in 2023 found that 94% of respondents said the attackers also went after their backups This figure rose to a staggering 99% in cases were the targets were in the state and local government, media, leisure, and entertainment sector.

These attacks on backups are often carried out by way of ransomware attacks, and various sectors of commerce. The same survey found that energy, oil, and gas sectors were the most likely to lose backups in an attack at a likelihood of 79%, while education had a likelihood of 71%. Perhaps the scariest number to come out of this research is the fact that bad actors were successful in 57% of all backup compromise attempts.

 

The World of Cybersecurity is Changing

Digital transformations have changed how we work so much that criminals have increased their level of sophistication in carrying out their attacks. Increased threat intelligence and an investment in information security and data protection are necessary elements of risk mitigation in today’s digital landscape. If businesses recognize this, it could mean long-term success in an increasingly challenging digital landscape. This is an area where infosec professionals can deliver real business value.

Get the necessary expertise to adapt with the changing cybersecurity landscape without needing to hire an entire team. UDT cybersecurity and ransomware assessments can help your organization figure out ways to reduce its cyber risk by helping identify vulnerabilities, offering security solutions like Managed XDR, and recommending useful cybersecurity strategies, such as adopting a zero-trust security policy to minimize the likelihood of cyber incidents.

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