Every year, it seems, pundits and egg-heads (like me) write down our predictions. Most of the time they are self-serving. However, looking into my crystal ball, I think 2019 is going to be a defining year at the intersection of physical and cybersecurity. The Internet of Things (IoT) and advances in artificial intelligence are some of the main driving forces in this evolution. Further, with chaos happening throughout the world, and the lead-up to a turbulent US presidential election, there has never been a more perilous—and opportunistic—time for those in the IoT and security business.
The 5th generation of warfare is here
2019 will be the year of the state-level hacker and cracker. Hacking has become an industry unto itself, forcing organizations to deal with everything from malware, social engineering, and viruses, to full-on cyberwarfare attacks against enterprises and governments. In short, we are living in dangerous times. Companies must move beyond just virus protection as their first line of defense. Attacks are becoming more and more sophisticated, and while companies can’t keep up, they can mitigate the damage caused. 2019 will be the year where major state-level breaches will happen and governments, businesses, and consumers will show how woefully unprepared they are—much like when Russia declared cyberwar on Ukraine in 2015. For years, most organizations and governments have only prepared for digital mayhem, ignoring the real potential damage “bad actors” can cause. Put bluntly, organizations have been reactive, not proactive, when it comes to cybersecurity—especially at the edge.
Ukrainian history is only a small showcase of things to come. On multiple occasions, bad actors or saboteurs from Russia disrupted critical infrastructure, countrywide, including power/energy, transportation, financial, media, military, and government systems. These attacks literally paralyzed Ukraine, allowing Russian troops to take over the country without firing a shot. Nearly 7,000 cyber-attacks were launched at over 35 targets over a 2-month timeframe, causing irreversible damage to the country’s infrastructure. These attacks were relatively simple, using spear-phishing malware attacks (BlackEnergy) within energy and other critical systems. Other attacks were more direct, through HVAC, supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, meters/submeters, and other hardware-based attack vectors.
Bottom line, 2019 will likely see the most massive state-level cybersecurity attack to date, and most governments and enterprises will be caught flat-footed. However, it’s not all doom-and-gloom; these attacks will force organizations to become more proactive about how they approach security, making it less about the process and more about the practice of safety.
Security Operations Providers (SOC) like AT&T , Circadian Risk, CyberHat, Dell SecureWorks, DownRange Security Solutions (DRSS), Microsoft , and Orator have compelling proactive solutions for monitoring and managing cyber risk—all will be worth watching in the coming year.
Duh, data, data, data…
Data protection and privacy are the most pressing security challenges of our time. Consumers have been conditioned to turn over more and more personal information to companies for convenience—where we go, who our friends are, our religion, politics, employer, mood, etc. Not even the wealthiest man in the world, Jeff Bezos, is immune from breaches of privacy due to bad decisions and, well, indiscretion.
All kidding aside, the market for consumer data is a business and business is good. Most of us take for granted the amount of information we provide to service providers over our smartphones. Symantec estimates that over 90% of Android and nearly 40% of iOS applications collect and sell “risky permissions.” Risky permissions include location tracking, audio recording, call/text logging, and audio recording.
While we can’t fix stupid (i.e., what people do online, mobile or otherwise), several companies are making strong moves to help protect data. From an SMB and consumer level, Carbonite’s acquisition of Webroot demonstrates how important it is to address the gap between physical and cyber data protection, beyond just virus and malware protection. Conversely, Google recently announced it is all in on data protection by investing in an open source project it calls “confidential computing,” or Asylo (Greek for an aptly named “Safe Space”). On the surface, the attempt is notable. However, this is more like putting a Great White Shark in charge of Sea Lion conservation on San Francisco’s Pier 39. While intentions are good, Google and the industry’s history and hubris around privacy do not match reality.
I do anticipate more 2019 purchases of companies that bridge the gap for protecting enterprise and consumer data in the physical and online world. The blind trust will continue to occur, but rest assured some companies are taking on this fight. It is a fight worth having.
The killer robots are coming!
Well, maybe not robots—but chatbots designed to entice users to provide sensitive information, download malicious files, and misdirect users to nefarious sites are here. Chances are you are one of the >500 million people to have their personal information compromised through a hotel, retail, or even government attacks (I am one as well). Artificial intelligence/deep learning has become smarter and more interactive, making intelligent chatbots a viable solution to reduce customer and technical service costs. Today, hackers are leveraging AI-driven chatbots to “socially engineer” unwitting victims into making bad decisions. Over the next several years we will see bad actors creating more powerful and deceptive tools to penetrate both consumers and businesses. However, as killer chatbots become more conversational and intuitive, the industry will identify ways to counter what’s coming.
Much like IoT, AI is one of the most overused marketing terms in the industry today. There is significant, untapped opportunity, but it is important to be mindful of the risks and responsibilities associated with AI.
Over the next few months, I will be highlighting several trends, technologies, and the vendors that are leading the cyber charge. With the emergence of IIoT, the lines between physical and cybersecurity are increasingly blurred. Organizations find themselves having to combine human expertise with technology capabilities. The threats and criminals are smarter, and their methods are more sophisticated—we as an industry must strive to be better just to keep up.