From the butterfly effect of ransomware and cyber insurance, to drones, election security and deepfake – 2020 will see its share of more sophisticated and creative cyberthreats.

As we embark on a new year, it’s normal to think about what the future will have in store for us.  From a cybersecurity perspective, there are a lot of conversations about what will be. 

What are the big technology trends and what risks will they pose?  Will attackers be all about new technologies like AI and biometrics or will the focus be more on infiltrating conventional systems in new and innovative ways?  What will the attack vectors be?  Will traditional attack methods continue to reign supreme or will new approaches emerge? 

As we head into a new decade, there’s no doubt that attackers will try to use innovation against us but determining where they will focus is always a challenge.  Here are the top security trends we believe will impact both businesses and consumers in 2020:

1. Drones open up new pathway for intelligence gathering

To date, the security concern around drones has mostly been focused on the physical damage that could be perpetrated by nefarious actors, including nation states.  In 2020 we could start seeing attackers focus more on what drones know and how that information can be exploited for intelligence gathering, corporate espionage and more. While it’s true that drones have the potential to do physical damage, the longer-term opportunity for attackers is to use drones as another pathway to steal – and manipulate – sensitive information.

Goldman Sachs recently predicted that businesses will spend more than USD$17 billion in the next five years on drone functionality. With an emphasis on innovation and development, these devices need to be treated as any other IoT device, with software that gathers and stores sensitive information that needs to be protected.

Organizations need to consider who has the ability to control the drone’s activities, what information the drone is storing, how access to that information is being managed and monitored, and ultimately who owns responsibility for securing it.  These questions will need to be addressed by the creation of a security framework that can help mitigate emerging security risks and potential regulatory and compliance challenges.

2. The butterfly effect of ransomware 

Cities and public sector organizations around the world have faced a steady barrage of ransomware attacks, with momentum continuing to build heading into 2020.

With the goal of these attacks aimed at disruption and destabilizing systems, cities and towns, in particular will need to elevate their approach to cyber resiliency. 

The constant bombardment will have a butterfly effect that impacts will reach far beyond what we’ve seen to date. 

  • Attacker innovation shifts to the cloud:  The absence of spectacular ransomware attacks like Petya doesn’t mean attackers have stopped investing in malware. They’re just shifting their focus. In many ways, attackers subscribe to the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” mentality. The malware families that have been around for years still work, and are effective for many reasons, mostly because many organizations still neglect to adhere to basic patching practices. That said, attackers keep looking for new ways to monetize their assaults. If they’ve got malware that is steadily performing in Windows environments, what’s the next target? Wanting access to a greater diversity of systems, including cloud environments and containers, we’ll begin to see innovation in ransomware that focuses more on Linux to take broader advantage of digital transformation trends. 
  • Cyber insurance ‘gold rush’ fuels ransomware attacks: Despite government warnings not to pay the ransom in ransomware attacks, more organizations are turning to cyber insurance to protect their assets and uptime. We expect to see a significant increase in the number of entities buying cyber insurance, making it one of the fastest-growing markets related to cybersecurity.  In fact, cyber insurance is projected to be a $7 billion market in the U.S. alone.  However, this investment in “protection” is having a contrary effect – and will drive even greater waves of attacks. Attackers will target organizations with cyber insurance because of the high likelihood of getting paid. This is because insurance companies weighing the cost benefits of a payout will often choose to do so if the cost of the ransom is less than the cost of downtime needed to rebuild a network. Ultimately, this gold rush will benefit attackers – tilting the power in their direction, fueling resources and spurring the need for policy changes and disruption across the insurance industry.

3. Election security: Cyber-attacks as a disenfranchisement mechanism

Election security is a hot topic for democracies everywhere.  While much of the discussion tends to focus on disinformation campaigns, including the use of deepfake technology to influence opinion, attacks will evolve to have a broader disruption theme that goes beyond media.

Beyond ballot box tampering, it’s important to consider the broader impact of disruption and disenfranchisement.  Attackers have repeatedly demonstrated skill at causing disruption – when it comes to impacting democracy, we could see disruption come in many – even seemingly disconnected – forms.

We’ve considered the impact of stalling major transportation systems – like buses and trains – in major metropolitan areas that could keep citizens from safely getting to the polls.  Sequencing of these attacks that impact core infrastructure – halting transportation, shutting down the electrical grid or launching an attack on voter registration databases – can have a domino effect and impact the ability for the voting system to operate consistently with trust and reliability.

4. Biometrics creating a false sense of security in the enterprise

With biometric authentication becoming increasingly popular, we’ll begin to see a level of unfounded complacency when it comes to security. While it’s true that biometric authentication is more secure than traditional, key-based authentication methods, attackers typically aren’t after fingerprints, facial data or retinal scans. Today, they want the access that lies behind secure authentication methods.

So, while biometric authentication is a very good way to authenticate a user to a device, organizations must be aware that every time that happens, that biometric data must be encrypted and the assets behind the authentication are secure.

Even more importantly, the network authentication token that’s generated must be protected. That token, if compromised by attackers, can allow them to blaze a trail across the network, potentially gaining administrative access and privileged credentials to accomplish their goals – all while masquerading as a legitimate, authenticated employee.