Cyber professionals in 2021 are facing a plethora of cyber security challenges that have never been more prominent. The Cobalt March 2021 article Cybersecurity Statistics for 2021 points to this alarming nature from Coronavirus beginnings in early 2020 through to costly 2021 forecasts.
Cyber attacks have increased by 300% and are projected to cost the world economy $6 trillion by the end of 2021, doubling the results from 2015. The October 2020, Cybersecurity Ventures Official Annual Cybercrime Report estimated that the amount of money spent on cyber security challenges in 2021 will exceed $1 trillion.
In this post, we outline six major cyber security challenges and threats that cyber professionals are facing in 2021 and beyond.
1. The cyber security challenges of Malware
The majority of cyber security challenges faced in 2021 are the result of some kind of malware. Malware is software that is created to cause harm to a computer (server or client) or a network environment.
Malware can infiltrate a system in a variety of ways. It may be as simple as viewing a site with malicious ads, accidentally downloading an infected file, installing programs or applications from an untrustworthy source, or opening a malicious email. A DataProt article, A Not-So-Common Cold: Malware Statistics in 2021 details that there are more than 1 billion malware programs. There are at least 560,000 new pieces of malware being created and detected every day.
Malware takes many different forms, each of which targets specific areas and causes critical cyber security challenges.
Here are a few common examples:
A malicious code or program that attempts to alter the way a computer operates. Similar to a virus in a human, it is designed to spread from one computer to another by inserting or attaching itself to a legitimate program or document.
Viruses can support macros, in order to execute their code. Less than 10% of Malware comes in the form of a virus.
Similar to viruses, worms attempt to alter the way a computer operates, however worms do not require end-user action. This means a worm can self-replicate by sending malicious emails and texts by itself. Once another system receives this email or text, the worm continues to spread.
Often set up on legitimate websites, malvertising causes cyber security challenges by masking as a deceptive advertisement.
A tempting online store sale or an illegitimate warning notification telling the user that their device is infected. Once the user clicks the pop-up or advertisement, they are redirected to a malicious website, which can deploy malware.
As CSO Australia points out in, “9 types of malware and how to recognize them,” bots are compromised machines, making botnets a network of compromised machines, often utilising a combination of a trojan and a worm that can then be used for larger-scale attacks with greater speed and impact of propagation.
2. Cyber Security Challenges with Ransomware
From October 2020, Cybersecurity Ventures Official Annual Cybercrime Report, an enormous cyber security challenge in 2021 is ransomware. Ransomware is a form of malware estimated to cost businesses $20 billion by the end of 2021. Showing how serious threat ransomware has grown for businesses is that back in 2015, just five years earlier, these numbers were 50 times lower than they are at present.
Ransomware is deemed to be extremely malicious as it ultimately makes your device unusable by denying users and system administrators access to files or potentially to entire networks. Ransomware does this by going through files, such as photos, documents, videos – really anything on the device – and then encrypts them in this type of cyber attack.
The threat actor then holds the files ransom until a payment is made meeting their conditions. However, even after paying the ransom, it is possible that what has been encrypted may not be regained and could be entirely lost. DataProt in March 2021 A Not-So-Common Cold: Malware Statistics in 2021 calls out a key statistic about ransomware that, “every minute, four companies fall victim to ransomware attacks.”
One of the most notorious ransomware attacks came in the form of a worm, named ‘WannaCry’. Kaspersky’s What is WannaCry Ransomware? indicates that the initial onslaught began on the 12th of May in 2017 and that in just four days around 230,000 computers were hit with the attack. The ransom was originally for the amount of USD$300 worth of bitcoin but later increased to USD$600.
WannaCry used an exploit known as EternalBlue, which was a leaked National Security Agency (NSA) hacking tool that ran on Microsoft to spread as much as possible. A third of England’s National Health Service (NHS) hospital trusts were affected by the attack, as they were using Windows computers that had not received a security patch released by Microsoft. However, Microsoft did release an emergency patch during the WannaCry tragedy to combat this.
One major impact that WannaCry had on the NHS was the resulting rerouting of ambulances, leaving people in urgent need of care stranded. After WannaCry cancelled 19,000 appointments the estimated cost worn by the NHS was £92 million, which is around AUD$185 million today.
WannaCry is predicted to have resulted in $4-6 billion dollars in losses across the globe. According to TechCrunch in an article Two years after WannaCry, a million computers remain at risk from May 2019, as many as 1.7 million ‘internet-connected endpoints’ are still vulnerable to the leaked NSA tools. To avoid cyber security challenges like this it’s good to perform regular cyber-hygiene. This means keeping your devices updated to lower the risk of a cyber-attack like the incident at WannaCry.
3. Social Engineering is one of the largest cyber security challenges we face
Social Engineering affects not only cyber professionals but potentially anyone using technology today. It is one of the largest cyber security challenges and threats. It uses psychological manipulation to deceive users into making security mistakes or giving away sensitive information.
There are usually four steps to successful social engineering cyber security threat:
In the investigation phase, reconnaissance occurs on an individual or entity in order to gather background data. This can be through potential points of entry and weak security protocols. This helps the cyber attacker select methods for infiltration. The hook is used by the threat actor to deceive the individual to create a sense of trust in the victim. The play is the overall goal of social engineering. The information is gleaned from a person, device, entity or account over a period of time. Finally, in the exit, the attacker works to remove all traces of any malware or to rid of any suspicion of being inside the secure environment.
Three types of social engineering include:
Security Magazine in February 2021 5 biggest cybersecurity threats explain that phishing makes up 90% of social engineering cyber attacks. Google in 2020 blocked over 18 million coronavirus phishing attempts each day at the beginning of the pandemic.
Phishing takes place through email and text messages (smishing) that aim to invoke a sense of urgency, curiosity or fear in its victims.
A deactivation scare is where you as the user receive an email claiming that your account will be deactivated if you don’t follow a specific link and enter your login name and password. This link allows the attacker to navigate you to an application where they can receive your password and the information that you provide them.
Baiting uses a false promise in order to stimulate an individual’s greed or curiosity. This entices the user into a trap in order to attempt to steal personal information from them or it may infect their systems with malware.
Pretexting is the practice in which the attacker uses a series of crafted lies to gain the victim’s trust, often by impersonating co-workers, police, bank and tax officials. The attacker asks the victim to confirm their identity by giving personal details such as personal addresses, bank records, and credit card numbers.
4. Spyware is a dated cyber security challenge but it’s still relevant
Spyware still concerns many cyber professionals in 2021 because it can operate completely undetected. Spyware is a form of malware that is designed to secretly track and record activity on a device to gather private data.
Most spyware is installed unknowingly. It can get onto your device simply by installing a seemingly trusted web download. Other ways spyware can infiltrate your systems are by clicking on third-party web browser toolbars or add-ins, utility programs such as video players, advertising blockers, or deceptive packages promoted as “anti-spyware” or antivirus systems that ironically contain spyware. Spyware can be used to obtain sensitive information and then sell it to markets as well as stealing personal information such as passwords and credit card numbers. This can impact both individuals or enterprise companies.
Some types of spyware include, but are not limited to:
Software that uses a browser to collect an individual’s data to then target advertisements that are based on the user’s search history.
Similar to adware but not specifically used for advertisements, tracking cookies stay open even when the website they originated from is closed.
Record everything that happens on a device and its network, from keystrokes, emails, websites visited, programs launched, and phone calls made. System Monitors also record the overall device to find any vulnerabilities they can capitalise on.
Trojans, like the Ancient Greek Trojan Horse, thrive by misleading their victims. However, a 21st century Trojan functions by embedding itself to an email attachment or into a fake advertisement on a website or sometimes via social media, which is usually identified as a trusted link. Trojans disguise themselves in order for the victim to click on them, once they are activated trojans can allow the attacker access to the victim’s system including possible private information, delete files, and spread onto other devices that are using the same network. Another type of trojan is ‘Remote Access Trojans’ (RATs) which enables the attacker to take control of the infected computer remotely. DataProt A Not-So-Common Cold: Malware Statistics in 2021 found that Trojans account for 58% of all computer Malware.
6. SQL Injections
An SQL (Structured Query Language) attack consists of an injection of a malicious code query via a Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) request. HTTP is the format used for communication between a client and a server, which means an attacker can inject untrusted input into a program in your computer.
If a victim is using an application that takes user input from an HTTP request, this input can be injected with a malicious SQL query whilst the request is being processed. This input is then processed by an interpreter, which is a program that reads and executes instructions written in a programming or scripting language.
After the SQL injection, the interpreter will execute what has been given. An attacker can use an SQL injection to request a device to provide results other than originally intended. A Wordfence article 18th May 2021 reported that on the 13th of March 2021 there was a Timed-Based Blind SQL Injection which was installed on over 600,000 WordPress sites. This allowed any site user to extract sensitive information from a site’s database.
Cyber criminals may use SQL injections to:
- Obtain private data
- Subverting application logic (changing code to interfere with the applications logic)
- UNION attacks
- Examining the database
- Blind SQL injection (The results of a query you control are not returned in the application’s responses)
- Defame a high-profile figure or companies
Furthermore, an attacker could obtain a persistent backdoor into a system without detection, enabling them to continually access the device’s data.
Cyber security challenges in 2021 will continue to be a major concern for cyber security professionals or everyday users. With the advent of the Internet of Things we are all increasingly connected, often unbeknown. To overcome cyber security challenges, make sure to keep your devices updated, be wary of email attachments or suspicious links, and have a healthy scepticism for what you see when surfing the web. Stay vigilant no matter how enticing a pop-up ad for a sale is or how bad the gut-wrenching feeling is when you receive an email asking for your bank details to avoid going to prison for tax fraud.
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