Biometric hacking, an increase in phishing attacks and sophisticated use of artificial intelligence (AI) are among the top cyber security threats to be expected in 2019, as attackers stop at nothing to steal identities and evade detection through new techniques.
- Attacks through theft of biometric data
While several major leaks of biometric data have already occurred globally, the Middle East and Africa regions could see the first attacks in the theft and use of biometric data in 2019, according to Kaspersky Lab.
“As more biometric systems for user identification and authentication are being implemented by various financial institutions in META (Middle East, Turkey and Africa), 2019 will see criminals exposing vulnerabilities in passcodes, touch ID sensors and facial recognition,” says Fabio Assolini, senior security researcher at Kaspersky Lab.
“While many financial organisations consider these emerging biometric-based solutions to improve security over current authentication methods, biometric data will increasingly be used to steal sensitive information.”
- AI and machine learning make attacks harder to detect
Manuel Corregedor, COO at Telspace Systems, says 2019 will see more advanced exploitation of AI to carry out and conceal new exploits.
“I believe we will see an increase in attackers utilising AI and machine learning as a means to make their attacks more difficult to detect or prevent,” says Corregedor.
However, AI will also change the way the industry deals with threats.
Brian Pinnock, cyber security specialist at Mimecast, says AI and machine learning will play a more prominent role as the velocity and variety of attacks makes conventional approaches – such as blacklists – outdated and ill-equipped to deal with modern cyber threats.
“Organisations will realise the importance of threat intelligence and will focus on the need for an ‘intelligence function’ to identify threats,” says Pinnock.
- Phishing scams to soar
As e-mail attacks grow more frequent and complex, more organisations will be left scrambling for new ways to reduce risk and better detect and remediate threats in 2019.
Pinnock says throughout 2019, the most insidious development won’t be new attack types, but, rather, improved execution of existing attack types, especially those delivered via e-mail.
“Phishing techniques like the use of homoglyphs, elongated URLs, legitimate certifications (green lock), and credetial-harvesting sites will increase. Flawless phishes will continue to prey on the gap in human firewalls, pivoting internally around organisations and intensifying efforts to better educate all staff.”
Dr Jabu Mtsweni, research group leader for cyber defence at the Council for Industrial and Scientific Research (CSIR), points out that phishing scams are still quite popular as cyber security awareness remains low.
“Denial-of-service attacks on government Web sites were also popular in 2018. This includes injection of malware on government Web sites that remain undetected. In 2019, malicious e-mail and links will continue to be used by criminals to get access to organisations’ networks.”
- Fake videos bring a new era of fake news
UK-based innovation foundation Nesta forecasts that 2019 will see a new level of malicious posts on social media as fake videos set the next stage in fake news.
Lifelike computer-generated graphics – appearing to show video footage of events that never really happened – will be used to mislead the public.
“We predict that within the next 12 months, the world will see the release of highly authentic-looking malicious fake videos, which could cause substantial damage to diplomatic relations between countries,” says Nesta. “Deepfakes, a new AI-based technology that makes it possible to create fake videos of individuals nearly indistinguishable from the real thing, will make this possible.”
The innovation foundation believes that Deepfakes have the potential to spark a geo-political incident if a politician or celebrity is maliciously impersonated.
- Improved execution of existing attack types
In 2018, cyber attacks and data breaches continued to increase in both frequency and intensity, and organisations can expect more of the same in 2019, according to experts.
Corregedor points out that the biggest cyber security event of 2018 is probably just the sheer number of data breaches that have occurred across industry sectors, some utilising advanced attacks, others as a result of mistakes made by the affected organisations.
Over 4.5 billion data records were compromised worldwide in the first half of 2018, according to Gemalto’s latest Breach Level Index.
Pinnock points out that better social engineering, increases in credential stuffing attacks, and more complicated malware with multiple stages and different form factors for transmission will make threats incredibly tricky to detect in 2019.
“With global cyber crime organisations growing in maturity and sophistication, many are now acquiring capabilities that were once the sole reserve of nation states,” notes Pinnock
“We’re likely to see these cyber criminals use stolen credentials from the past few years’ data breaches to compromise the security of even the most secure organisations. Even companies with good cyber protection have little protection against the reuse of passwords that have been collected in other breaches.”
- Slight decrease in crypto currency attacks
According to Kaspersky Lab, 2018 saw a rise in the malicious use of crypto currency miners, with virus attacks and malicious software against crypto miners growing almost fourfold.
Kaspersky predicts that crypto currencies as a means of payment will decline further in 2019, and this trend is expected to lead to a slight decline in crypto currency threats.
“In the face of huge commissions, slow transfers, a large price for integration, and, most importantly, a small number of customers, the use of crypto currency as a method of payment has declined steadily from 2017 and will continue to decline in 2019.”
However, those crypto currency threats that do occur will be focused on mining malware, with the intervention of new players and the continuation of the use of ransomware.
“In 2018, the META region became more appealing to cyber criminals, with financial and malicious crypto mining attacks taking centre stage,” notes Assolini.
“Illegal mining of crypto currencies increased dramatically to overtake the main threat of the last few years – ransomware. We believe the reason for this is that mining is silent and causes less impact that ransomware, making it less noticeable.”
- Mobile, in-the-app malware
While malware that runs on the Windows operating system vastly outnumbers malware for any other platform, users of mobile devices are increasingly subject to malicious activity that pushes malware apps to their phones, tablets, or other devices running Android and iOS, according to computer network security company Sophos’ 2019 Threat Report.
For some time, malicious versions of popular apps were predominantly found on third-party app stores. These can be sketchy places, hosting pirated and/or trojaned versions of legitimate apps, notes the report.
Unusual malicious campaigns affecting the Android platform – phishing-in-the-app – can be expected in 2019, warns Sophos.
“In 2018, we discovered one way that criminals can bypass the Play Market’s source code checks was by not including anything malicious in the app itself, but rather by making an app that, in essence, is a browser window to a phishing site. The apps, in this case, were designed in tandem with the phishing site so the user had a seamless experience,” notes the report.
- 5G deployments to fuel threats
A number of 5G network infrastructure deployments kicked off this year, and 2019 is expected to be a year of accelerating 5G activity. While it will take time for 5G networks and 5G-capable phones and other devices to become broadly deployed, experts predict growth will occur rapidly.
According to Symantec’s Cyber Security Predictions: 2019 and Beyond, growing 5G deployments and adoption will expand the cyber-attacks surface area.
“As a stepping stone to broad deployment of 5G cellular networks, some carriers are offering fixed 5G mobile hotspots and 5G-equipped routers for homes. Given the peak data rate of 5G networks is 10 Gbps, the shift to 5G will catalyse new operational models, new architectures, and, consequently, new vulnerabilities.
“Over time, more 5G IoT devices will connect directly to the 5G network rather than via a WiFi router. This trend will make those devices more vulnerable to direct attack.”
- IIoT attacks not slowing down
Industrial IoT (IIoT) attacks through cloud infrastructure and over-reliance on AI in cyber security systems are two critical risks for enterprises in 2019, according to Forcepoint’s 2019 Cyber security Predictions Report.
“In 2019, attackers will break into industrial IoT devices by attacking the underlying cloud infrastructure. This target is more desirable for an attacker – access to the underlying systems of these multi-tenanted, multi-customer environments represents a much bigger payday.”
Three elements expected to play a significant role in the increase of IIoT attacks, according to the report, are: increasing network connectivity to edge computing; the difficulty in securing devices as more compute moves out to the edge; and the exponential number of devices connecting to the cloud for updates and maintenance.
- The rise of SaaS
Gilad Peleg, CEO of cyber security firm SecBI, predicts that in 2019, the model of enterprise software deployed on-premises will gradually disappear as it’s replaced by Software-as-a-Service (SaaS).
Many of the resources once in the hands of corporates, like the database, e-mail server, ERP, CRM and others, will all move to the cloud, leaving enterprises vulnerable, he observes.
“SaaS’ greatest advantage is also its greatest weakness. With SaaS, you need much less IT. This is a benefit at first glance, but upon inspection, it becomes a problem – you don’t control the access, or the data. Therefore, you don’t know you were hacked, nor do you have the tools to know,” notes Peleg.
“The security implications here are that organisations will cease to have visibility into the perimeter and all the perimeter’s defences. As enterprises acknowledge, they are left blind by this change, and will thus need new visibility solutions.”
Sophos Anticipates AI-Based Attack Techniques, Prepares Detections
Sophos, a global leader in innovating and delivering cybersecurity as a service, has released two reports about the use of AI in cybercrime.
The first report—“The Dark Side of AI: Large-Scale Scam Campaigns Made Possible by Generative AI”—demonstrates how, in the future, scammers could leverage technology like ChatGPT to conduct fraud on a massive scale with minimal technical skills.
However, a second report, titled “Cybercriminals Can’t Agree on GPTs,” found that, despite AI’s potential, rather than embracing large language models (LLMs) like ChatGPT, some cybercriminals are skeptical and even concerned about using AI for their attacks.
On the the dark side of AI, using a simple e-commerce template and LLM tools like GPT-4, Sophos X-Ops was able to build a fully functioning website with AI-generated images, audio, and product descriptions, as well as a fake Facebook login and fake checkout page to steal users’ login credentials and credit card details.
The website required minimal technical knowledge to create and operate, and, using the same tool, Sophos X-Ops was able to create hundreds of similar websites in minutes with one button.
“It’s natural—and expected—for criminals to turn to new technology for automation. The original creation of spam emails was a critical step in scamming technology because it changed the scale of the playing field. New AIs are poised to do the same; if an AI technology exists that can create complete, automated threats, people will eventually use it. We have already seen the integration of generative AI elements in classic scams, such as AI-generated text or photographs to lure victims.
“However, part of the reason we conducted this research was to get ahead of the criminals. By creating a system for large-scale fraudulent website generation that is more advanced than the tools criminals are currently using, we have a unique opportunity to analyze and prepare for the threat before it proliferates,” said Ben Gelman, senior data scientist, Sophos.
For its research into attacker attitudes towards AI, Sophos X-Ops examined four prominent dark web forums for LLM-related discussions. While cybercriminals’ AI use appears to be in its early stages, threat actors on the dark web are discussing its potential when it comes to social engineering. Sophos X-Ops has already witnessed the use of AI in romance-based, crypto scams.
In addition, Sophos X-Ops found that the majority of posts were related to compromised ChatGPT accounts for sale and “jailbreaks”—ways to circumvent the protections built into LLMs, so cybercriminals can abuse them for malicious purposes. Sophos X-Ops also found ten ChatGPT-derivatives that the creators claimed could be used to launch cyber-attacks and develop malware. However, threat actors had mixed reactions to these derivatives and other malicious applications of LLMs, with many criminals expressing concern that the creators of the ChatGPT imitators were trying to scam them.
“While there’s been significant concern about the abuse of AI and LLMs by cybercriminals since the release of ChatGPT, our research has found that, so far, threat actors are more skeptical than enthused. Across two of the four forums on the dark web we examined, we only found 100 posts on AI. Compare that to cryptocurrency where we found 1,000 posts for the same period.
“We did see some cybercriminals attempting to create malware or attack tools using LLMs, but the results were rudimentary and often met with skepticism from other users. In one case, a threat actor, eager to showcase the potential of ChatGPT inadvertently revealed significant information about his real identity. We even found numerous ‘thought pieces’ about the potential negative effects of AI on society and the ethical implications of its use. In other words, at least for now, it seems that cybercriminals are having the same debates about LLMs as the rest of us,” said Christopher Budd, director, X-Ops research, Sophos.
47% of Companies in the META Region Plan to Outsource Cybersecurity
Company bosses are boosting their cybersecurity following an alarming increase in cyberattacks, a new study commissioned by Kaspersky has found.
The data shows that 78% of companies in the Middle East, Turkiye and Africa region suffered at least one cyber incident over the last two years. One of the main reasons cited was the shortage of qualified IT security staff (23%).
Among measures to strengthen cybersecurity, overall up to 47% of respondents claimed that their companies plan to invest in different forms of outsourcing cybersecurity in the next 12 to 18 months.
Kaspersky conducted a study to learn the opinions of IT security professionals working for SMEs and corporations worldwide regarding the impact people have on cybersecurity in a company.
The survey gathered information about various groups of people who influence cybersecurity, looking at both internal staff, and external actors. It also analysed levels and types of online safety company bosses believed warranted investment.
In the META region, more than three quarters (78%) of respondents reported that their company had experienced cybersecurity incidents within the last two years, with 83% of these judged as ‘serious’. Some said the main reasons for cyber incidents occurring in their company were a lack of necessary tools for threat detection (31%) and a shortage of internal IT security staff (23%).
The respondents indicated that a variety of measures would be appropriate to address the gaps in cybersecurity. Specifically, 24% said they would like to see more external specialists brought in.
One quarter of organisations (25%) plan to invest in third-party professional services, and as many as 32% of respondents are aiming to outsource their cybersecurity to MSP/MSSP (Managed Service Providers/Managed Security Service Provider).
The most likely industries to invest in third-party services in the near future are critical infrastructure, energy and oil & gas companies.
At the same time, many organisations plan to invest in automating their cybersecurity processes. In the next 12 months almost half of businesses in the META region (51%) have concrete plans to implement software that automatically manages their cybersecurity, while 19% are discussing the subject.
“The automation and outsourcing of cybersecurity tasks are major areas that organisations are struggling with because of a lack of experts and alert fatigue. Turning to external experts, — whether it’s outsourcing, to manage the whole cybersecurity system, or adopting expert-level services to assist the IT Security department — is the optimal solution for many.
“Cybersecurity vendors, Managed Service Providers, Managed Security Service Providers are the companies that have relevant expertise, all the necessary tools, and can manage cybersecurity effectively for customers of any size.
“Additionally, they can provide the customer with various options, such as Managed Detection and Response services, where SOC experts continuously carry out monitoring, or assistance in case of emergency like investigating a particular incident. Automation tools provided by cybersecurity vendors is another way an organisation can strengthen its cybersecurity.
“For example, our XDR and MDR has out-of-the-box automation through investigation and response playbooks and embedded AI, enabling clients and partners to significantly automate their information security processes.
“With all possible options provided by experts, each company can determine the scope of services that are needed, based on cybersecurity gaps or desired development trajectory,” comments Ivan Vassunov, VP, Corporate Products at Kaspersky.
Yiaga Asks INEC t Consider ID Cards, Passports for Voter Identification
Yiaga Africa, a non-profit civic hub of change makers has again asked Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to consider legislative changes that would make it possible to accept the national digital ID as well as biometric passports as credentials for ID verification.
At a recent workshop, the organization has also encouraged INEC to make online voter registration a permanent feature and to improve on the functionality of the portal to allow for the remote collection of biometrics.
In the last voter registration cycle, online enrolment was highly encouraged but the capture of biometrics was done only at INEC’s physical offices.
Instead of printing PVCs, Yiaga Africa has advised that INEC should make it downloadable from its portal upon registration, or issue it as a printed document at polling stations at the time of voting.
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