Cyber-threats to watch out in 2019

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BY ANTONY MUTUNGA

Last year saw a rise in threat activity in the cyber-world as more and more people got connected to the Internet. According to the hosting fact list of Internet, e-commerce and hosting statistics for 2018, the number of internet users rose from about 3.7 billion at the end of 2017 to 4.1 billion as at the end of 2018.

The surge in data breaches and cyber-attacks has affected billions of people all over the world. According to Positive Technologies, a global digital security firm, during the second quarter of 2018 cyber attacks increased by 47%, affecting about 765 million Internet users around the globe. This resulted in a lot of losses last year. Z Services, a UAE cloud-based cyber security solutions provider, recorded that cybercrime cost the world up to Sh101 trillion ($1 trillion) in terms of stolen money.

The increase in cyber-crime confirms that many organizations, especially those dealing with huge amounts of data collected from users are not safe from cyber-criminals and hackers. They are unprepared and lack the requisite security to avoid these breaches and attacks. But the increase might also be as a result of new regulations that require firms to report cases of cyber-attacks.

Last year, for instance, the European Union (EU) updated to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which requires all organizations that do business in the EU to protect the data and privacy of their customers, gain consent for the use of all personal data, implement security of data, be able to delete the data on request and report any data breach or cyber-attack within 72hours. The regulation has seen the number of reported cases increase in the region.

Cyber threats are only expected to increase as hackers and cyber-criminals continue to learn new techniques of acquiring access to one’s information. Cybersecurity Ventures, the world’s leading researcher for the global cyber economy, predicts cybercrime will cost the world in excess of Sh609 trillion ($6 trillion) annually by 2021 which includes damage and destruction of data, stolen money, lost productivity, theft of intellectual property, theft of personal and financial data, embezzlement, fraud, post-attack disruption to the normal course of business, forensic investigation, restoration and deletion of hacked data and systems, and reputational harm.

The predicted cost confirms that organizations will continue remaining a step behind in terms of cyber-security. However, this can be changed. With the New Year just taking off, it is important for organizations to identify the cyber-threats that will be most common in 2019.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) Threats

Over the recent years, the field of AI has seen major breakthroughs that have seen AI-powered systems already being used in many areas of business operations. The AI systems are becoming commercial as companies use them to automate manual tasks and enhance decision-making. They have also been used to detect and anticipate cyber-attacks.

However, regardless of the good AI systems bring to the tech world, they also act as a double-edged sword as hackers are able to use them as well to execute more problematic attacks. Cybercriminals are able to use the AI system to evade detection and bypass AV, firewalls, sandboxes, and other endpoint security solutions. In fact, according to the 2019 Threat Predictions Report by McAfee, the researchers expect evasion techniques to begin leveraging artificial intelligence to automate target selection, or to check infected environments before deploying later stages and avoiding detection.

Additionally, the AI system might also allow cyber-criminals the opportunity to use machine learning to create and send convincing phishing messages to targeted victims, tricking them to share sensitive information or to install malware to their devices.

Crypto-Jacking

Cryptocurrencies have been a popular trend around the world in the last four years and recently hackers have started targeting those holding these digital tokens. Despite being popular among the hackers, most hackers have changed to a new way of dealing with cryptocurrency; this is through crypto-jacking where hackers are able to take over the processing power of one’s device and use it to mine for cryptocurrencies. This is to be considered the most popular attack this year.

In order for one to acquire a cryptocurrency through mining, they are required to solve complex mathematical problems that require a lot of computing capacity. Therefore, most hackers hijack a number of computing devices in order to acquire the digital tokens. This is quite dangerous when it affects public institutions such as hospitals and schools; because once a computer is compromised it performs slower, affecting service delivery. An example of such an attack includes the use of a malware to infect Transneft’s, Russia’s giant pipeline company, computers to mine digital tokens secretly in 2017.

Ransomware attacks

These are one of the biggest cyber threats in the world. In 2017 and the early 2018 they were considered the most populated attacks in the world before crypto-jacking took over in mid-2018. Once a ransomware has attacked a computer, it encrypts all the data on the attacked device, the connected devices and their database. It brings to a halt all operations on all the devices until one pays the ransom requested by the cyber-criminals to get the access back.

To be able to stay ahead and be secured against these cyber threats, individuals and enterprises will have to ensure they have the latest cyber security. Organizations will need to have a systematic application security program and also be able to promote a security culture amongst its staff.

2018 was filled with major data breaches that included the breach at Facebook that saw at least 50 million users being compromised; the attack on Marriott, an international hotel chain, that affected 500 million of its guests and the attack on British Airways that saw customer details from around 380,000 booking transactions being stolen, including bank card numbers, expiry dates and cvv codes.

This year should be different. Awareness to organizations to ensure they have the latest security is crucial. As we move forward, hackers continue to be more knowledgeable and gain new tricks but in the meantime so do the security programs advance. It is important to ensure that everyone is moving forward with technology.