Cybersecurity Threats to Watch For in 2021

Cybersecurity Threats to Watch For in 2021

When it comes to cybersecurity, foresight is crucial since it enables companies to prepare themselves for the cyber threats that they may face in the future. Cybercriminals continuously come up with new strategies and exploits to attack would-be victims. Even so, older threat vectors still act as the foundation for perpetrating the newer forms of cyber-attacks.

Technology constantly evolves, and so do cyber-attacks. The technology that your organization might be relying on in 2020 and previous years may not be the ideal solution for your business needs moving forward. Therefore, you need to step up your cybersecurity game and educate yourself about the threats you might face. Here are the cybersecurity threats to watch for in 2021.

Cyber Attacks that Leverage Artificial Intelligence

For all the praise that AI has received over the years, there’s a dark side to it. And it all stems from the fact that cybercriminals can leverage AI to penetrate your network and steal data. In recent years, we’ve seen hackers outpacing companies regarding the technologies and hacking techniques they use.

Cybercriminals can easily mimic human behavior using AI to access your data. This is a threat that you should watch out for in 2021. You can beat such hackers at their own game by leveraging computer learning tools and AI to detect and stop attacks before they get executed. For instance, dynamic and static AI protection can help you detect, remediate, mitigate, and thwart potential threats.

Phishing Emails

You might think that this hacking method is now outdated. However, phishing emails remain the number one avenue that hackers use to target their victims. A common feature of all phishing emails is that they tend to be directed at specific individuals. Moreover, hackers always prey on human error to instigate their attacks. Cybercriminals are getting even more sophisticated as far as their phishing methods are concerned. With companies collecting even larger volumes of data, the stakes are even higher for cybercriminals.

Today, companies across all industries are targeted by hackers using phishing emails. This is a tried and tested hacking method that won’t go away anytime soon. Whether it’s a malicious attachment or a phishing attack, hackers are always at the top of their game. For instance, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many people to work remotely, and hackers are making a killing out of it since they have found new weaknesses to exploit.

Employees are more likely to open phishing emails while working remotely, which cybercriminals know too well. Regardless of how much effort you put into training employees about phishing scams, some will always click on phishing emails. Therefore, as more companies opt for remote workforces, expect to see more phishing attacks in 2021. Besides training employees, you can prevent phishing attacks by:

  • Implementing a policy of least privilege when managing user accounts on your network. Individual users’ access to sensitive data should be limited to the bare minimum.
  • Leverage anti-phishing software to detect phishing emails that may contain malicious links or requests for crucial information from phishers.

Deepfake Video and Audio

In the past couple of years, you’ve probably come across a video or audio recording that makes you stop for a minute and remark, ”OMG! That can’t be real!”

Well, welcome to the world of deepfake attacks. This is a new phenomenon in the cybersecurity sphere, and it's likely to gain more prominence in 2021. Deepfake audios and videos are created using complex algorithms that flawlessly splice videos and audio clips to create new realities. This has mesmerizing but harrowing implications, primarily if the deepfakes are used to steal sensitive data such as financial details from your organization or its associates.

Since it’s a relatively new phenomenon, no proper defense against deepfakes has been invented. If hackers use this method to target you, the best defense is rapid response. A deepfake can either be indistinguishable from reality or a blatant falsehood. Responding quickly with a verifiable video or audio will help you prove its authenticity, thus enabling you to thwart a possible cyber attack.

Zero-Day Exploits

Zero-day exploits are not new in the cybersecurity world. They are here with us, and expect to see more of them in 2021 and beyond. However, the specific threats keep changing, and this is what makes these attacks dangerous. Hackers are always coming up with new and previously unknown methods of attacking their victims. Typically, zero-day exploits lurk in the shadows and remain undetected by those who are tasked with securing your company’s new software and hardware.

The alleged existence of any zero-day exploits (which might be real or unreal) is often the subject of a shadowy and tense battle between the so-called “white hat” and “black hat” hackers. Both groups have a common objective, which is to unearth zero-day exploits. However, their methods tend to differ in the following ways:

  • Black hat hackers always find and use the zero-day exploits to wreak havoc on their victims.
  • White hat hackers are always out to find the zero-day exploits and notify would-be victims and system manufacturers. This way, patches can be deployed to thwart any black hat hackers' attempts to attack compromised systems.

To prevent zero-day attacks in 2021 and beyond, patch your systems regularly. Indeed, this might take significant time and resources, but in the long run, it’s worth every effort made because it shores up your defenses. You can patch your system even without a dedicated IT team. You only need to assign the role to individual process owners whose responsibility will be to monitor the systems and deploy patches whenever they are available.

IoT-Based Attacks

In recent years, there has been an uptake in interconnected smart devices in homes and workplaces. However, not all of these devices come with reliable security measures. This creates loopholes that hackers can exploit to infiltrate home and business networks and access sensitive information.

Recently, there were reports of a malware known as Reaper, which leveraged IoT devices' vulnerabilities to infiltrate systems and spread itself. Ultimately, thousands of IoT devices got compromised. With more people using these devices in their homes and workplaces, expect a surge in IoT-based attacks.

You can prevent these attacks by having a comprehensive catalog of all internet-connected devices within your network. Update the firmware for these devices to address exploits that may not have been patched by the manufacturer. Besides, run firmware updates on new smart devices before adding them to your network.

Insider Threats

The insider threat isn’t a new concept in the cybersecurity world. These threats are growing in aggression and sophistication all the more, thus the need to stay vigilant. The information that malicious insiders can access gets even more valuable with time. Therefore, insider threats will keep rising in 2021. A study by IT Europa established that there are many places where disgruntled or malicious insiders can offload data stolen from your servers.

To mitigate insider attacks, you should be vigilant at all times. Indeed, it’s difficult to defend yourself against insider attacks because those behind the attacks know how your systems function and also have the credentials to access whatever data they want. Nevertheless, there’s so much you can do to prevent them or limit their impact.

The most suitable defense mechanism is controlling permissions as much as possible. Regardless of how much you trust your team, you shouldn’t give them more access than what they need to do their job. Also, restrict access to crucial data to a few individuals. This way, it will be easy to pinpoint a culprit if you suffer an insider attack.

DDoS Attacks

These attacks are designed to overload a network and cause it to crash. Typically, DDoS attackers route abnormally high traffic through your servers, thus overwhelming them. The GitHub attack of 2018 typifies how DDoS attacks are perpetrated and remains the biggest DDoS attack ever. If your organization suffers such an attack, there’s no guarantee that it will ever recover.

Although DDoS attacks have been around for a while, expect to see more of them in 2021. These attacks are hard to control since they target critical network infrastructure, especially servers. Often, victims get caught unawares because, by the time they realize they are under attack, it’s always too late.

DDoS attacks can be prevented by monitoring incoming traffic keenly to detect unusual low-volume exploratory attacks that hackers use to discover weaknesses in your system and prepare for more devastating attacks. It’s equally advisable to work with your organization’s cyber protection vendor to cushion yourself from the fallout from potential attacks.

Nigerian Prince Attacks

This scam isn’t new but is always packaged differently whenever a new victim is targeted. In 2020, we’ve witnessed a new version of the scam, and you should watch out for it as we head into 2021, lest you fall victim to the scammers. During the Coronavirus pandemic, the scam became even more prominent. When the government started sending economic stimulus payments, the scammers also got into the game.

Scam emails purporting to be from the government were sent to victims asking for their bank information and other personal data so that the funds could be directly deposited into their amounts. Unfortunately, many individuals and companies fell for this trap. This clearly shows that hackers are getting smarter, thus the need to watch out for this scam as we head into 2021.

Final Words

Although 2020 isn’t over, businesses should start planning for the future. This entails preparing for the cybersecurity threats that 2021 has in store. Learning about the threats you face goes a long way in helping you to counter them. By learning what lies ahead, it will be easier to adjust your defenses accordingly.

Nov 6th 2020 Jordan MacAvoy

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