2020 may have been the year of establishing remote connectivity and addressing the cybersecurity skills gap, but 2021 presented security experts, government officials and businesses with a series of unprecedented challenges. The increased reliance on decentralized connection and the continued rapid expansion of digital transformation by enterprises, small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) and individuals, provided cybercriminals with many opportunities to exploit and capitalize on unsuspecting businesses and individuals. With nothing short of a major financial windfall waiting in the midst, numerous organizations and individuals fell victim to the mischievous efforts of malicious actors.
Threats abound in 2021
In 2021, we witnessed so many competing shifts, many of which we detailed early on in our BrightCloud™ Threat Report. In particular, we witnessed an increase in distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks and a surge in the usage of the internet of things (IoT). For enterprises, SMBs and individuals that entrust IoT devices for work and entertainment, this opens up vulnerabilities to malicious vectors that take advantage of unprotected blind spots and wreak havoc.
The cybercrime marketplace also continued to get more robust while the barrier to entry for malicious actors continued to drop. This has created a perfect breeding ground for aspiring cybercriminals and organized cybercrime groups that support newcomers with venture capitalist-style funding.
Suffice to say, a lot has been happening at once.
Below, our security experts forecast where the main areas of concern lie in the year ahead.
Malware made leaps and bounds in 2021. In particular, six key threats made our list. These dark contenders include LemonDuck, REvil, Trickbot, Dridex, Conti and Cobalt Strike.
“In 2022, the widespread growth of mobile access will increase the prevalence of mobile malware, given all of the behavior tracking capabilities,” says Grayson Milbourne, security intelligence director, Carbonite™ + Webroot™, OpenText™ companies. Malicious actors will continue to improve their social engineering tactics, making it more difficult to recognize deception and make it increasingly easier to become a victim, predicts Milbourne.
Earlier in 2021, we detailed the hidden costs of ransomware in our eBook. Many organizations when faced with an attack, gave into the demands of threat actors, paying hundreds of thousands of dollars on average. Since mid-October 2021, there have been more than 25 active strains of ransomware circulating. The evolution of ransomware as a service (RaaS) has vastly proliferated. Conti, in particular, continues to be the more prevalent ransomware affecting SMBs.
“As the year progresses, we will likely see faster times to network-wide deployment of ransomware after an initial compromise, even in as little as 24 hours,” says Milbourne.
“Stealth ransomware attacks, which would deploy all the necessary elements to control, exfiltrate and encrypt key assets of an organization but do not execute until there is no alternative, will likely continue to proliferate,” says Matt Aldridge, principal solutions consultant at Carbonite + Webroot. “This approach will be used to get around restrictions on reporting and on ransomware payments. Criminals can extort their targets based on the impending threat of ransomware without ever having to encrypt or exfiltrate the data. This could lead to quicker financial gains for criminals, as organizations will be more willing to pay to avoid generating awareness, experiencing major downtime or incurring data protection fines,” forecasts Aldridge.
There was no shortage of discussion surrounding cryptocurrency and its security flaws. The rise of exchange attacks grew, and quick scams reigned. The free operation of cryptocurrency exchanges and marketplaces will be significantly impacted by government regulation and criminal investigation in 2022, especially in the United States.
“This year, we will likely see new threat actors become strategic in their cost-benefit analysis of undertaking long-term mining versus short-term ransomware payments. The focus will likely fall to Linux and the growth of manipulation of social media platforms to determine price,” predicts Kelvin Murray, senior threat researcher, Carbonite + Webroot.
“Simply put, attacks on the supply will never stop; it will only get worse,” says Tyler Moffitt, senior security analyst at Carbonite + Webroot. Each year the industry gets increasingly stronger and more intelligent. Yet every year, we witness more never-before-seen attacks and business leaders and security experts are constantly looking at each other thinking, “I’m glad it wasn't us in that supply chain attack,” continues Moffitt.
General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) fines have more than doubled since they came out a few years ago just as ransom amounts have increased. These fine values have also been promoted on leak sites. Moffitt predicts GDPR will continue to increase their fines, which may serve to help, instead of thwart, the threat of ransomware extortion.
Last year, we forecasted phishing would continue to remain a prevailing method of attack, as unsuspecting individuals and businesses would fall victim to tailored assaults. In our mid-year BrightCloud Threat report, we found a 440% increase in phishing, holding the record for the single largest phishing spike in one month alone. Industries like oil, gas, manufacturing and mining will continue to see growth in targeted attacks. Consumers also remain at risk. As more learning, shopping and personal banking is conducted online, consumers could face identity and financial theft.
What to expect in 2022?
The new year ushers in a new wave of imminent concerns. In 2022, we expect to see an increased use of deepfake technology to influence political opinion. We also expect business email compromise (BEC) attacks to become more common. To make matters worse, we also foresee another record-breaking year of vulnerability discovery which is further complicated by bidding wars between bug bounty programs, governments and organized cybercrime. Most bug bounties pay six figures or less, and for a government or a well-funded cybercrime organization, paying millions is not out of reach. Ultimately, this means more critical vulnerabilities will impact individuals and businesses. The early days of 2022 will also be compounded by the discovery of Log4j bugs hidden within Java code.
“The critical vulnerability identified within Log4Shell is a great example of how attackers can remotely inject malware into vulnerable systems. This active exploitation is happening as we speak,” says Milbourne.
The key to preparing for the plethora of attacks we will likely witness in 2022 is to establish cyber resilience.
Whether you’re looking to protect your family, business or customers, Carbonite + Webroot offer the solutions you need to establish a multi-layer approach to combating these threats. By adopting a cyber resilience posture, individuals, businesses small and large can mitigate risks in the ever-changing cyber threat landscape.
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