Top Cyber Threats for 2016 and Next Five Years

November 17, 2015
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Businesses and organizations should expect cyber criminals to attack through wearable devices, employees’ home systems, cloud services and automobiles within the next year, according cyber experts at Intel’s McAfee Labs.

By 2020, individuals could be receiving payment for sharing their personal data and hackers could be manipulating markets in their favor through financial intelligence gathering, the experts also predict.

Intel Security has released its McAfee Labs Threat Predictions Report, which offers predictions on the cyber threat landscape in 2016 and insights into what that landscape might look like through 2020.  The report, which reflects the opinions of 33 of Intel Security’s thought leaders, also addresses likely responses to these threats.

“The best hockey players navigate within the ice rink, grapple with opposing players, take advantage of opportunities when available, and, critically, as Wayne Gretzky said, always ‘skate to where the puck is going to be—not where it has been,'” said Vincent Weafer, vice president of Intel Security’s McAfee Labs.

2016 Predictions

The 2016 threat predictions include likely threats around ransomware and the sale of stolen data. The cyber risk threats McAfee experts sees in 2016 include:

  • Hardware. Attacks on all types of hardware and firmware will likely continue, and the market for tools that make them possible will expand and grow. Virtual machines could be targeted with system firmware rootkits.
  • Ransomware. Anonymizing networks and payment methods could continue to fuel the major and rapidly growing threat of ransomware. In 2016, greater numbers of inexperienced cyber criminals will leverage ransomware-as-a-service offerings which could further accelerate the growth of ransomware.
  • Wearables. Although most wearable devices store a relatively small amount of personal information, wearable platforms could be targeted by cyber criminals working to compromise the smartphones used to manage them. The industry will work to protect potential attack surfaces such as operating system kernels, networking and Wi-Fi software, user interfaces, memory, local files and storage systems, virtual machines, web apps, and access control and security software.
  • Attacks through employee systems. Organizations will continue to improve their security postures, implement the latest security technologies, work to hire talented and experienced people, create effective policies, and remain vigilant. Thus, attackers are likely to shift their focus and increasingly attack enterprises through their employees, by targeting, among other things, employees’ relatively insecure home systems to gain access to corporate networks.
  • Cloud services. Cyber criminals could seek to exploit weak or ignored corporate security policies established to protect cloud services. Home to an increasing amount of business confidential information, such services, if exploited, could compromise organizational business strategy, company portfolio strategies, next-generation innovations, financials, acquisition and divestiture plans, employee data and other data.
  • Automobiles. Security researchers will continue to focus on potential exploit scenarios for connected automobile systems that fail to meet best practice security policies. IT security vendors and automakers will develop guidance, standards and technical solutions to protect attack surfaces such as vehicle access system engine control units (ECUs), engine and transmission ECUs, advanced driver assistance system ECUs, remote key systems, passive keyless entry, V2X receiver, USBs, OBD IIs, remote link type apps and smartphone access.
  • Warehouses of stolen data. Stolen personally identifiable information sets are being linked together in big data warehouses, making the combined records more valuable to cyber attackers. The coming year will see the development of an even more robust dark market for stolen personally identifiable information and usernames and passwords.
  • Integrity attacks. One of the most significant new attack vectors will be stealthy, selective compromises to the integrity of systems and data. These attacks involve seizing and modifying transactions or data in favor of the perpetrators, such as a malicious party changing the direct deposit settings for a victim’s paychecks and having money deposited into a different account. In 2016, McAfee Labs predicts that there could be an integrity attack in the financial sector in which millions of dollars could be stolen by cyber thieves.
  • Sharing threat intelligence. Threat intelligence sharing among enterprises and security vendors will grow rapidly and mature. Legislative steps may be taken making it possible for companies and governments to share threat intelligence. The development of best practices in this area will accelerate, metrics for success will emerge to quantify protection improvement, and threat intelligence cooperatives between industry vendors will expand.
Predictions through 2020

McAfee says its five-year look ahead attempts to predict how the types of threat actors will change, how attackers’ behaviors and targets will change, and how the industry will meet these challenges over the next five years:

  • Below-the-OS attacks. Attackers could look for weaknesses in firmware and hardware as applications and operating systems are hardened against conventional attacks. The lure would be the broad control attackers can potentially gain through these attacks, as they can conceivably access any number of resources and commandeer administration and control capabilities.
  • Detection evasion. Attackers will attempt to avoid detection by targeting new attack surfaces, employing sophisticated attack methods, and actively evading security technology. Difficult-to-detect attack styles will include fileless threats, encrypted infiltrations, sandbox evasion malware, exploits of remote shell and remote control protocols, and the aforementioned, below-the-OS attacks targeting and exploiting master boot records, BIOS, and firmware.
  • New devices, new attack surfaces. While there has not yet been a surge in Internet of Things and wearable attacks, by 2020 install bases of these systems could reach substantial enough penetration levels that they will attract attackers. Technology vendors and vertical solution providers will work to establish user safety guidance and industry best practices, as well as build security controls into device architectures where appropriate.
  • Cyberespionage goes corporate. McAfee Labs predicts that the dark market for malware code and hacking services could enable cyberespionage malware used in public sector and corporate attacks to be used for financial intelligence-gathering and the manipulation of markets in favor of attackers.
  • Privacy challenges, opportunities. The volume and value of personal digital data will continue to increase, attracting cyber thieves, and potentially leading to new privacy regulations around the world. Concurrently, individuals will seek and receive compensation for sharing their data, a market will develop around this “value exchange,” and the environment this market shapes could change how individuals and organizations manage digital privacy.
  • Security industry response. The security industry will develop more effective tools to detect and correct sophisticated attacks. Behavioral analytics could be developed to detect irregular user activities that might indicate compromised accounts. Shared threat intelligence is likely to deliver faster and better protection of systems. Cloud-integrated security could improve visibility and control. Finally, automated detection and correction technology promises to protect enterprises from the most common attacks, freeing up IT security staff to focus on the most critical security incidents.

For more information read the full report: McAfee Labs Threat Predictions Report.

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