Wednesday 18 December 2019

Top-3 Predictions for 2020: Cyber Threats and How to Protect

Written by Stuart Peck

2019 has been an eventful year, with a never-ending barrage of high-profile breaches, large scale malware campaigns, change in the tactics of ransomware, all leading to a ramp up in criminal and fraudulent activities.

The third-party attack vector has been leveraged more this year than, say, in 2018, with a massive increase in the abuse of third-party libraries, namely Magecart. However, as stated last year the attack vectors remain vastly the same as they have always been - human error, configuration issues, weaknesses in the supply chain and, unsurprisingly, patching problems!

Although there have been improvements in detection and response capabilities in many organisations, mistakes are punished by attackers leveraging automation and bots, to quickly and efficiently utilise known weaknesses at scale, allowing for a foothold on their target’s assets.

So, as I attempt to do my best Nostradamus impression, and predict what 2020 has in store for us, it is important to note that while attackers are constantly changing tactics and procedures to keep us all on our toes, at the core they stick to what works, because if it’s not broken, why fix it?

Here are my top 3:

Cloud Security Misconfiguration (Here Again for 2020)

Although great strides have been made to improve the security of critical assets in the cloud, organisations still haven’t fully embraced the protection available, or worse, have misconfigured environments allowing attackers to capitalise on this.

There have been many incidents in 2019 that highlighted this: with Capital One in the US being one of the biggest victims. We are still seeing open repos with vast amounts of customer data unencrypted and available to anyone, weak admin credentials with no MFA, private keys posted in GitHub repositories… the list goes on.

Human error is a factor that the cloud sadly won’t fix, only expedite, with significant consequences for organisations that don’t embrace the Sec in ‘DevSecOps’! With increased governance around protecting the privacy and security of PII (Personal Identifiable Information), those fully adopting the benefits of the cloud also need to fully enforce the security controls.

Ransomware Punishing Victims More

2019 saw less volume of ransomware variants than in previous years, but a change in tactics by
attackers, focusing mainly on manual hacking techniques to gain unauthorised access, then focusing on destroying the backups to enhance the chance of payments.

This has been a technique that has been adopted widely due to the success of SamSam and seems to be the playbook of choice. With greater detection of C2 servers, attackers are favouring offline encryption of data, databases, and virtual servers which allows attackers to go undetected longer. This technique is clearly paying off for attackers given the frequency of governments and companies falling foul to this.

But for 2020 there is a worrying threat emerging; the theft of sensitive data as part of the ransom demand, designed to coerce the victim into payment. Although there have only been a few campaigns found to adopt this technique, such as ShadowKiller in South Africa in October, it won’t be long before others follow suit.

Collaboration Third-Party Apps Targeting

With so many people using collaboration apps such as Slack and Jira it makes for an interesting attack surface. Many of these services are used in Operational IT and/or Development sprints, and usually contain a lot of information that is useful to an attacker. Collaboration tools are usually seen as trusted third parties, and therefore sensitive information is usually exchanged. In some cases, I have even seen private API keys exchanged in a Slack channel.

It’s important to ensure that collaboration tools are locked down, accounts are protected, and policies enforced to reduce the likelihood of attackers gaining unauthorised access to this information.

Not all bad news though, there are some really simple things you can do now, and throughout 2020 to reduce your exposure:

  • Conduct regular education and training of your employees to reduce exposure to phishing, social engineering, and help give them the skills to perform basic cyber hygiene. Also, where possible, ensure 2FA is enabled - it really does reduce the risk of common attacks.
  • Conduct regular Ethical Hacking Assessments on your risky assets, especially those that are public facing. Check cloud and internal networks for misconfiguration - the quickest win to prevent abuse from attackers. Also test those integrations; understand how and where you are exposed.
  • Train Developers and Operational teams (DevOps) on secure coding and deployment principles. Ensure these are documented through a defined set of procedures and policies. Also ensure developers are using secure coding frameworks, and not using risky third-party libraries, or untested open-source objects.
  • Conduct incident response scenario testing as this can be vital to understanding how you might perform in that perfect storm and will highlight where improvements can be made. Increasing your ability to detect, react and most importantly respond is something we all should be doing on a regular basis.

In 2020 there will most likely be new threats, vulnerabilities, exploits and attackers emerging on to the scene - there is every year! What’s important is to be mindful of identifying your blind spots and developing the appropriate strategy that is balanced for the size of your organisation and information (and assets) you are looking to protect from unauthorised access. Technology and automation will help, but without the right balance of people (skills and training), and processes there is always the risk of misconfiguration or human error.

Wishing you a good festive break and prosperous new year!