Stronger, more ingenious, faster – over the last few years, cyber attacks have grown more effective on every front. And Deutsche Telekom’s security experts forecast that the cyber skies will be far from rosy in the new year.
They see five big trends in cyber attacks for the coming year, which will require private users and companies to be even more wary of ransomeware, choose their passwords with great care, and regularly update the software on their connected devices if they are to avoid falling victim to cyber crime.
1. Connected devices will increasingly be misused for attacks
Household appliances and office equipment like televisions, fridges and security cameras now have the performance capabilities of small computers – and are often connected to the Internet. Criminals are hijacking these connected devices more and more often, using them to attack other targets.
Mostly without the owner even noticing. In this way, a company’s servers can be paralyzed by mass requests such that the company’s website becomes unavailable. And your own television or the company’s elevator control can be part of the attack.
“The solution is to patch, patch, patch!” says Thomas Tschersich, Head of Cyber Security at Deutsche Telekom. “If your devices are always running the most up-to-date software, there is more than a 90 percent chance that attacks will fail.” Hence the expert advises always activating the auto-update function on connected devices.
2. Cyber blackmailing becoming ever more cunning
The loss and subsequent publication of attack tools of secret services and states give cyber criminals access to powerful tools for spreading their malware: Instead of just sending an e-mail with an infected attachment, cyber criminals are now using these tools to spread more and more malware that can propagate itself. If, for example, one computer in a company’s network is infected, the malware spreads to other computers.
“This means a new quality of attack via ransomware, which calls for new protective measures: Until now, most companies and private users have assumed they wouldn’t be affected by public-sector or state cyber attacks. But the tools for such attacks have now become common property – and everyone needs to protect themselves,” said Thomas Tschersich.
For companies in particular, the question is no longer whether or not they will be successfully attacked, but when. “So it is increasingly important to prepare for a successful attack and to ensure that any impact is as limited as possible.” This requires well-trained experts, who can be employed inhouse or brought in from a specialist service provider, said Tschersich.
3. Identity theft is on the rise, making it difficult to detect attacks
These days, most online services work with passwords. Many people make life easy for themselves by using one password for lots of different services and applications. They use the same log-in details for their e-mail account, their online shopping, their online banking, and their phone provider’s customer service center.
The problem with this is that if criminals get hold of a user’s data for one point, they test it with various other service – and in case of doubt, use a stolen identity to shop, book services and devices on phone contracts, or to spy out further data.
In these cases, it is difficult to prove misuse. The transactions made by criminals using stolen identities appear at first glance to be legitimate – banking and shopping using an identity that actually exists are normal activities in the online world. “This gives rise to a new development in the detection of cyber crime. Good versus bad has long been an inadequate judge.
The new categories are “plausible vs implausible.” To that effect, there is currently a shift in cyber analysis as a whole,” explained security chief Thomas Tschersich. He advises individuals to use secure passwords and above all, not to use the same password for all applications and services.
4. Influence of fake news and microtargeting on the rise
Since the U.S. elections at least, the phrase “fake news” has become common currency. The whole spectrum of deliberately false news for the general public as well as the dissemination of news to carefully selected target groups will also continue to rise and to provoke a feeling of insecurity among people.
These kinds of attacks are being targeted with increasing precision and they are no longer easy to spot from their poor grammar and misspelling. Social networks spread fake news like wildfire. This increases its perceived credibility, making it more and more difficult to counter.
5. Cryptocurrencies are increasingly being corrupted
The progressive spread of cryptocurrencies increases the risk of criminals misusing the systems of private users to mine cryptocurrencies. Deutsche Telekom experts are already seeing a rise in cryptomining in browsers. This trend will continue in 2018. Another risk is that malware or vulnerabilities will be exploited to steal existing cryptocurrency from users.
In parallel to the five main trends, Deutsche Telekom experts are also seeing cyber criminals constantly develop new vehicles for placing malware. The latest example is infection through Dynamic Data Exchange (DDE), a feature for sharing data within Microsoft Windows. Criminals are using DDE to infiltrate malware into computers without the user having to activate macros in a Microsoft Office document. Thomas Tschersich: “This is another new quality of attack, which most companies are not yet equipped to deal with.”
To follow the latest developments in cyber attacks, to better protect its own and its customers’ infrastructure, and to predict the next trends in attacks and put up potential defenses, Deutsche Telekom recently expanded its cyber defenses: A new Cyber Defense and Security Operations Center has been set up in Bonn to centrally manage Deutsche Telekom’s cyber activities.