Cloud-native and social media attacks to become major threat 2019 threat predictions

By Gary Denman, McAfee Vice President, Australia and New Zealand, McAfee

The threat landscape is constantly evolving to become more sophisticated, diverse and dangerous — and 2019 will be no different in welcoming completely new threats vectors and trends.

Next year we can expect to see a stronger, more effective cybercriminal underground, fostering cybersecurity alliances of defenders continuing to mature and further fortify defences.

Malware-as-a-service families will also strengthen, opening the door for corporate data, home Internet of Things (IoT) devices and brand reputations to be under significant threat, with cybercriminals largely using social media, the cloud and mobile phones as increasingly prominent attack vectors.

It is vital for CSOs and business leaders to plan for what is going to be, without a doubt, another hyperactive year of cybersecurity.

The growth of as-a-service attacks

Cybercriminals are rapidly fortifying the malware-as-a-service market by aligning to sell modular attack components. These one-stop shops make it easier for criminals of all experience and skill levels to execute successful and sophisticated attacks. This kind of market consolidation will continue in 2019 and cybercriminal enterprises are expected to flourish as established cyber gangs partner with other top-level services such as money laundering, evasion techniques, and vulnerability exploits.

As evidenced by conversations within the underground community, an increase is anticipated in mobile malware, botnets, banking fraud, ransomware, and attempts to bypass two-factor authentication.

In 2019, cybercriminals will also increasingly leverage artificial intelligence-as-a-service to develop cyberattacks with more sophisticated evasion techniques. AI can be deployed by attackers to automate target selection, scan for target network vulnerabilities, and assess the posture and responsiveness of infected environments to avoid detection before deploying later stages of attacks.

Data exfiltration attacks rise in the cloud

Australia has always been one of the fastest growing ‘cloud’ countries in the world per capita, and we’ll jump at any opportunity to become more efficient and advanced in our approach to the cloud. However, as adoption increases so does the vulnerability for cyberattack. Corporate data residing on the cloud will become a major target for attackers in the coming year.

As much as 21% of content now managed on the cloud contains sensitive materials, and once information is accessed within the right regulations, it becomes a matter how it’s being used.

Across the APAC region, protecting the cloud will become a non-negotiable safety measure to ensuring cyber-resilience, as 89% of organisations in the Asia Pacific store sensitive data in the cloud, and the amount of files shared with sensitive data has increased 53% year-on-year.

Major threats to cloud include cloud-native attacks targeting weak APIs or ungoverned API endpoints, expanded reconnaissance and exfiltration of data in cloud databases. Such attacks are increasing, with “Operation Cloud Hopper” one recent example of a cloud based attack, in which Chinese hackers “hopped” from cloud storage services into the IT system of numerous Australian organisations.

Cloud-native attacks will also become the launchpad for cryptojacking and ransomware attacks, which is why now, more than ever before, cyber resilience will become key to thwarting these types of attacks to the cloud.

IoT attacks in the home and on social media

The average Australian household has 17.1 connected devices, and this is expected to grow to 37 by 2022—representing 381 million internet connected devices nationally. The influx of devices, such as Alexa, will provide further opportunity in 2019 for new mobile malware to investigate smartphones, tablets, and routers to gain access into the digital assistants and home IoT devices they control.

Aside from home devices, social media platforms will also become a focal point, as 2019 will see cybercriminals focus their resources on attacking these data-rich environments.Facebook’s security breach where attackers gained access to the personal information of around 50 million users, including many Australians is just one example.

To remain resilient in the face of an evolving threat landscape, organisations, private sectors and government bodies must use collaborative measures and work in tandem to proactively mitigate the wave of new age attacks in 2019. Cybercriminal behaviours are—like always—expected to evolve, advance and become even more cryptic.