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A pandemic of cyberattacks

A pandemic of cyberattacks

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Babur Khan, Technical Marketing Engineer – Enterprise Security, A10 Networks, on the rising incidents of cyberattacks.

In the first quarter of 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic is still wreaking havoc around the globe. The coronavirus is continuously evolving and presenting new challenges.

In addition to the direct effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, we also saw a sharp rise in cybercriminal activity. From simple phishing attacks to one of the largest DDoS attacks ever recorded, we have seen the cyber threat landscape evolve and grow.

At the same time, we also saw a rapid growth in the tech and cyber security industry. From the roll out of 5G in many parts of the world to exponential growth in the SaaS industry, we saw the pandemic put many positive changes into full gear as well.

We believe that these challenges and the changes that they brought about, will not stop. The effects of this pandemic on the tech industry will be long lasting. Moreover, some of the challenges introduced in 2020 will affect cybersecurity well into 2021 and even beyond. As we move deeper into 2021, here are some of the cybersecurity trends that we see:

Cybercrimes will experience a surge

Last year was a busy year for both attackers and hackers as well as cybersecurity personnel defending against the plethora of attacks to which they were subjected. With an election year in the United States in 2020, we saw a rise in anti-government cyber activities, a prominent example of which was the attack on FireEye, allegedly by a foreign nation state sponsored entity, where multiple tools were stolen for use in attacks later on.

In 2021, such attacks will not just be more frequent, but they will also be very specific regarding who they target. International cyber espionage will be one of the main motivators for cyberattacks and we will see security vendors being attacked and compromised at an even greater pace. Even the attacks that happened in 2020, like the FireEye attack or the Sunburst attack, that targeted the SolarWinds supply chain, will have long lasting effects. We have only seen the beginning of these attacks. Investigators suspect, for example, that up to 250 organisations may have been compromised in the SolarWinds attack. Actual results are yet to come.

Such attacks will not only create opportunities for newer attacks or variants/branches of the existing ones, but will also drive cybersecurity innovation in 2021.

Intelligent Edge weaponised

One of the major innovations driven by 5G is the implementation of multi-access Edge Computing (MEC). Building intelligence into the Edge will boost the availability and efficiency of 5G networks. However, keeping the global cybersecurity trends in mind, we can see that the intelligent Edge might be hijacked by attackers for launching different kinds of attacks, both on the mobile core networks as well as on victims outside of the realm of the service provider that has been compromised. If nothing else, MEC can be used for propagating malware into different networks for drone recruitment in IoT botnets.

Low-volume DDoS attacks

In 2020, even though we saw one of the largest DDoS attacks ever recorded target one of the biggest names in the tech industry, we also saw that a large number of DDoS attacks went unnoticed because, even though the frequency of these attacks was very high, their size was not. These high-frequency, low-volume attacks will keep the security industry busy in 2021 and may be instrumental to disabling security infrastructures or just acting as smokescreens for larger malware attacks such as the recent Sunburst attack.

Five million DDoS weapons will be added

The A10 Networks security research team observed that the number of DDoS weapons doubled from around six million at the end of 2019 to 12.5 million in 2020. This trend will remain the same in 2021 as more IoT devices come online with each passing day, with an expected addition of at least five million weapons.

The large number of DDoS weapons will also enable attackers to launch another record-breaking DDoS attack in 2021. We will have to wait and see whether it will be made public by the victims or not.

Year of zero trust implementation

2020 was the year of understanding what the Zero Trust model is in a practical sense. Throughout the year, we saw security vendors align their solutions with the Zero Trust model, adjust the model as we got more clarity on what it means to be a Zero Trust user, device or network and explore the policy changes necessary to a successful implementation of the Zero Trust model. As the COVID-19 pandemic fast-tracked the move to SaaS and made the ‘work from home’ model mainstream, the importance of Zero Trust security has gained critical importance.

Organisations now understand that Zero Trust is not a specific device or vendor, but rather a series of strategic policy and practical changes that help enable better security. A successful implementation requires good understanding of what the Zero Trust model is as well as the many diverse solutions that have to work in unison to enable its implementation.

We believe that the concept of Zero Trust has reached a level of maturity and clarity where it will be effectively adopted and implemented by many organisations in 2021 and that it will become the go-to security model for all types and sizes of organisations. Sophisticated attacks like Sunburst will also drive the need for effective Zero Trust implementation.

SASE adoption will accelerate

Since 2020 forced most of the workforce to work remotely, attackers have been experimenting with new ways of exploiting security loopholes or shortcomings exposed by these rapid changes. This accelerated and will continue to accelerate the development and adoption of Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) solutions.

However, since the move to the cloud does not happen overnight, many organisations still have most of their resources hosted on-premises. They will keep on struggling with maintaining the remote work model and will revert back to business as it was once a vaccine for COVID-19 becomes readily available and things go back to normal.

This, however, might be temporary as the world has now experienced a pandemic and many organisations have already started moving their businesses from on-premises to the SaaS-based model, with the trend only being accelerated by COVID-19. In summary, SASE will be an essential part of the enterprise security infrastructure in 2021 and beyond.

2021 the Year TLS 1.3 Shines

TLS 1.3 will finally start seeing widespread adoption, in part, driven by the adoption of QUIC/HTTP3 given that TLS 1.3 is built into it. Many vendors support TLS 1.3 already and that will help drive the protocol into mainstream use. Changes will also be made to the TLS 1.3 standard as the demand for encrypted SNIs rise.

That said, TLS 1.2 will still remain the more widely used choice as an encryption protocol over the Internet since moving to the newer version may prove to be expensive for many organisations. But as QUIC/HTTP3 becomes more widely used by the end of the year, we may see this change.

Looking ahead, we are facing new, persistent threats of all shapes and sizes, and we have to make sure that, going forward, we face these threats with the best of our collective abilities. 2021 will be the year of cybercriminal activities, but it will also drive innovations in cybersecurity like never before.

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