The door is closing on 2012, and it's time to look ahead to next year. As you round out your 2013 business and IT plans, cybercriminals are resolving to implement increasingly sophisticated threats targeting specific computer systems and organizations big and small.
In the past year, businesses have seen several serious hacks and breaches. As the arms race between attackers and businesses continues to evolve in 2013, IT departments and security professionals will need to stay on top of the changing tactics and approaches used by criminal hackers in order to protect their organizations.
Here's our take on what security threats and trends we expect to see in the coming year:
Threat #1: Social engineering
This begins with focusing on a tried-and-true black-hat tactic in both the physical and digital worlds – social engineering. Before the computer age, this meant sneaking one's way past a company's defenses with the gift of gab as opposed to a cleverly-worded email. Now social engineering has moved onto social networks, including Facebook and LinkedIn.
Attackers are increasing their use of social engineering, which goes beyond calling targeted employees and trying to trick them into giving up information. In years past, they might call a receptionist and ask to be transferred to a targeted employee so that the call appears to be coming from within the enterprise if caller ID is being used. However, such tactics aren't needed if the details the cybercriminal is looking for are already posted on social networks. After all, social networks are about connecting people, and a convincing-looking profile of a company or person followed by a friend or connection request can be enough to get a social engineering scam rolling.
Threat #2: APTs
Being aware of social engineering is important, of course, because it can be the precursor for a sophisticated attack meant to breach the wall of your organization. This year saw a number of high-profile attacks (think: Gauss and Flame) targeting both corporations and governments. These attacks are known as Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs). They are highly sophisticated and carefully constructed. The intention behind APT attacks is to gain access to a network and steal information quietly. They take a low-and-slow approach that often makes them difficult to detect, giving them a high likelihood of success.
Additionally, APTs need not always target well-known programs, such as Microsoft Word; they may also target other vectors, such as embedded systems. In a world where a growing number of devices have Internet protocol addresses, building security into these systems has never been more important.
APTs will continue as governments and other well-funded organizations look to cyberspace to conduct their espionage. In fact, APT attacks are running as we speak so look out for those anomalies in your network traffic.
Threat #3: Internal threats
But some of the most dangerous attacks come from the inside. These attacks can be the most devastating, due to the amount of damage a privileged user can do and the data they can access. In a study funded by the US Department of Homeland Security, the CERT Insider Threat Center at Carnegie Mellon University's Software Engineering Institute and the U.S. Secret Service, researchers found malicious insiders within the financial industry typically get away with their fraud for nearly 32 months before being detected. Trust, as they say, is a precious commodity – but too much trust can leave you vulnerable.
Threat #4: BYOD
The issue of trust comes into play in the mobile world as well, with many businesses struggling to come up with the right mix of technologies and policies to hop aboard the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend. Users are increasingly using their devices as they would their PCs, and by doing so are opening themselves up to web-based attacks the same as they would if they were operating a desktop computer.
For attackers, it is likely as well that there will be more attempts to circumvent the app review and detection mechanisms mobile vendors use to guard their app markets. All this means that the flood of iPhones, Google Android phones and other devices making their way into the workplace are opening up another potential gateway for attackers that needs to be secured. Think about it – your smartphone has a camera. It has a microphone. It can record conversations. Add these features to the ability to access your corporate network, and you have the ideal stepladder to climb the walls we are talking about.
Threat #5: Cloud security
BYOD is not the only thing changing the walls corporations must build around critical data however. There is also this little trend called cloud computing. With more companies putting more information in public cloud services, those services become juicy targets, and can represent a single point of failure for the enterprise. For businesses, this means that security must continue to be an important part of the conversation they have with cloud providers, and the needs of the business should be made clear.
Threat #6: HTML5
Just as the adoption of cloud computing has changed the vulnerability surface, so will the adoption of HTML5. Earlier this year, it was noted at the Black Hat conference, a place where security pros can get a sign of attacks to come, that HTML5's cross-platform support and integration of various technologies opens up new possibilities for attack, such as abusing Web Worker functionality. Even with an increasing amount of attention being paid to HTML5 security, the newness of it means that developers are bound to make mistakes as they use it, and attackers will look to take advantage. So, expect to see a surge in HTML5 oriented attacks next year, hopefully followed by a gradual decline as security improves over time.
Threat #7: Botnets
But even though the arms race between researchers and attackers favors innovation, expect cybercriminals to spend a lot of time perfecting what they know best, such as making sure their botnets have high availability and are distributed. While the legal takedowns being launched by companies such as Microsoft succeeded in temporarily disrupting spam and malware operations, it is naïve to assume attackers aren't taking what they have learned from those takedowns and using it to shore up their operations. Botnets are here to stay.
Threat #8: Precision targeted malware
Attackers are also learning from the steps researchers are taking to analyze their malware, and techniques were recently demonstrated that can help render analysis ineffective by designing malware that will fail to execute correctly on any environment other than the one originally targeted. Examples of these attacks include Flashback and Gauss. Both have been successful, especially Gauss, at stopping researchers from automated malware analysis. In the coming year, attackers will continue to improve and implement these techniques and make their malware more dedicated so that it only attacks computers with a specific configuration.
One thing is for certain - 2013 is sure to bring an army of exploits and malware through vectors ranging from social networks to mobile devices to employees themselves. As computer and operating system security continues to improve so will cybercriminals' new techniques to bypass these defenses. All the more reason to make security one resolution we keep.
Rajlingam Sokalingam is regional director for South Asia at Check Point Software Technologies