With a Better Understanding of What the Future May Hold, Cyber Defenders Can Gain an Upper Hand With the Adversary
Predictions describe a set of events that will or are highly likely to happen in the future; they connote a degree of inevitability. But that isn’t my intent with these predictions about cyber threats. Instead, my goal is to describe how we expect bad actors will behave so that we can better prepare for and defend against attacks – in effect, empowering us to defy the inevitable impact of cyber criminal behavior on our organizations.
Based on observations over the past year, here are my predictions for threat activity in 2016.
1. Attribution remains murky. Last year both the variety of threat actors and the ability to neatly “classify” these actors into types became much more difficult as attack behaviors changed, and motivations and threats increased in their complexity. Actors no longer work in set groups, but combine with others, involve multiple individuals, and use facades to hinder attribution. This all but ensures that attribution will be even more challenging in 2016.
2. Ransom continues to rule. Extortion as a mode of attack became a popular tactic for threats actors in 2015, and on a few occasions attackers have taken it to the level of demanding that businesses shut down entirely. Having proven that this is a profitable enterprise, attackers will likely further innovate their business models based on ransom and extortion in 2016.
3. More attackers share the global stage. Advanced attack methods, such as custom malware or unusual attack vectors, were historically the domain of nation states with significant engineering capability; often those states that have or are developing a nuclear defense capability. In 2015, non-nuclear states and organized criminal groups adopted these techniques thanks to lower barriers to entry and the increased trade in espionage capabilities. We can safely expect that in 2016 non-nuclear states will continue to develop their cyber capabilities and compete on the global stage.
4. Criminals follow the money. Organized criminals are focusing more intently on high value targets that provide a large value single payout. This is in contrast to the traditional consumer-focused malware approach that these groups have exploited in the past. This is highlighted even more with the Carbanak/Anunak attacks. Examples of high value/low volume transactions that may be targeted in 2016 are payroll, mortgages, and investment transactions.
5. Hacktivists get more sophisticated. Hacktivists continue to be motivated by embarrassment of their targets, but their tactics are no longer simply DDoS, doxing, and defacement. In 2015 hacktivists stole and published data in order to attract awareness to their cause, continuing to embarrass their targets despite the collateral damage. In 2016 hacktivists will use more tactics, techniques and procedures that were previously considered the preserve of cyber criminals.
6. Dark web marketplaces scramble for leadership. Global law enforcement will continue to takedown large dark web marketplaces. This will likely lead to a fragmentation of the market and rival marketplaces scrambling for pole position. This means that in 2016 we can expect the dark web will move to employ overlay networks other than Tor.
7. Attacks on the retail industry evolve. Spurred by the recent requirements for EMV chip card compliance, cyber criminals will continue to develop more sophisticated Point-Of-Sale (POS) malware.
As I stated at the beginning of this article, the point of these predictions isn’t to present a ‘gloom and doom’ scenario. Instead, we can use this information to our advantage. That’s what cyber situational awareness is all about: bringing together relevant and contextual insights to prioritize threat protection and policies and administer takedowns in order to mitigate harmful events.
Information about malicious actors is an important component of cyber situational awareness, because it analyzes which malicious actors might be targeting an organization, why, and their methods of attack. It’s even more critical that this analysis be tailored specifically to organizations and their unique threat environments. With a better understanding of what the future may hold, organizations can gain an upper hand with the adversary, preventing, detecting and containing cyber-related incidents.