Almost all decisions and strategies in modern organizations are data-driven. Data breaches that make the data inaccessible can therefore tamper with normal company operations.
Also, if it gets in the wrong hands, such sensitive data can be used to harm the company and third parties, such as suppliers, employees, and customers.
Unfortunately, the prioritized digitization and automation of IT systems have made companies more vulnerable to data breaches.
For this reason, organizations have to take extra measures to avoid data breaches. This requires organizations to be alert to the present and emerging data security risks.
These are the foreseeable data security threats that organizations should be prepared for in the coming decade.
Ransomware is evolving fast
In conventional ransomware attacks, hackers gain access to company systems and paralyze operations till a ransom is paid. The hackers may halt the systems themselves, or encrypt data so that the company can’t run its operations.
Most recently, there was a ransomware attack on the US company Colonial Pipeline. The company had to part with over $4 million in ransom to get its systems back online.
Ransomware attacks are evolving to become even more dangerous. Here’s how:
1. Stealing data
In the strictest sense, ransomware encrypts data, making it inaccessible, and then provides a decryption key to the company once the ransom has been paid. There is, however, growing concern that most modern ransomware is also designed to steal data.
The data is not returned even after paying the ransom and may be used to extort the company later. Hackers can also use the information to access other systems affiliated with the original victim.
Valuable and sensitive data can also be sold through the dark web to individuals, unscrupulous competitors, or even rogue states. From now on, this threat can be expected to get worse as malicious developers create more sophisticated malware.
2. Ransomware as a service
Ransomware developers have packaged their services like normal software companies.
A cybercriminal simply rents the malware, attacks an organization, and after receiving the ransom, they share it with the developer. This means that a criminal that has little programming knowledge can hack a big company or installation. Such hackers pose a threat to victims that would not ideally be attacked by mainstream hackers.
For instance, consider a medium size supply company. Ideally, such a company would not be on the radar of major ransomware companies such as DarkSide.
But now, a teenage student can hire the complex and advanced ransomware from DarkSide and use it against the company.
Such a company never had to worry about attacks by such serious malware, but now they have to.
Ransomware as a Service has therefore multiplied the number of criminals and potential victims.
Attacks on Cloud Services
Cloud computing is a necessity as companies and their employers adopt digital systems for almost all operations. This was evident in 2020 when a majority of companies had their employees working from home.
While cloud computing offered an efficient way for companies to proceed with their business operations, cybercriminals also recognized this as an opportunity for them to thrive.
According to a study by McAfee, there were at least 3.1 million attacks on cloud computing services. The real numbers could be much higher because the study only covered reported incidents.
Even after lockdowns were lifted, most companies and employees opted to retain the working-from-home arrangement. Likewise, attacks on cloud services have persisted into 2021 and there is no sign that they will decline soon.
Companies should therefore prepare adequately to protect the data stored in clouds.
Adoption of AI by Cybercriminals
Businesses are currently using artificial intelligence (AI) to improve customer experiences, analyze business data, and even create models for business strategies.
All these tasks are made possible by the massive amount of digital data that is currently available. By analyzing the data, e.g., on customer behavior, the computer systems can mimic human-like behaviors and provide satisfactory customer service.
AI has also been adopted to boost cybersecurity in many companies. Such AI systems can detect cybersecurity threats and enact automated security measures that are faster and more effective than manual or current cybersecurity software.
Unfortunately, AI is also available to cybercriminals. There are already concerns that cybercriminals are using AI to study IT security systems and increase their success in hacking.
But that’s not all the danger that AI poses to cybersecurity systems. AI uses pattern recognition to develop itself and take action.
Cybercriminals are cognizant of this and can reverse-engineer the data that was used to train the AI. They can then change the data to manipulate the AI to take actions that weaken your security systems.
The employee factor
When discussing data security, most organizations and individuals focus on external threats. In reality, however, employees also pose a significant threat to data security. In 2020, almost 60% of companies confirmed they were vulnerable to insider threats.
First, as many employees work from home, they create several points of vulnerability to your system through:
- Use of simple passwords exposing your digital platforms
- Unsecured home Wi-Fi network
- Working from unsecured personal devices
Naive, untrained employees are also more prone to phishing attacks.
But there are also malicious employees who steal or share company data intentionally.
Employee activity and negligence will be a threat to data security in the next decade onwards. Organizations will have to be proactive to curb the risk posed by employees through negligence, naivety, and malice.
How can organizations prepare for emerging data security risks
Many current data security risks have not only been existent for years but have also continuously developed. It is expected that in the next decade, the risks will also be mainly advanced versions of current threats.
Curbing the threats will therefore mainly require reinforcing current data security systems.
- Updating and upgrading cybersecurity systems regularly to meet emerging threats
- Assessing data security systems regularly to identify weaknesses and vulnerabilities: have a third party carry out some or all of the assessments for an unbiased review
- Creating a data security policy then training employees on the security measures, their importance, and the repercussions for not adhering
- Enforcing the data security policy strictly: this will require enforcing it for employees working from home, as well as third-party companies that interact with the company’s systems and data
- Data encryption and backup.
The increased adoption of digital systems in 2020 and 2021 due to work-from-home arrangements saw a sharp increase in cyberattacks and data breaches. Most of the attacks were done using existing techniques that have been enhanced using modern technological advancements.
In the foreseeable future, it is highly likely that cybercriminals will use the same tactics – but with advanced malware and techniques. Companies need to keep their systems updated, but also prepare for the possibility of successful data breaches by creating backup systems.
Jerry Low has years of experience in SEO and web hosting business. He owns and operates various successful sites, adapting quickly to ever-changing Google updates.
Jerry is a guest blogger. All opinions are his own.