In terms of annual storylines in cybersecurity, 2018 didn’t disappoint. Industry uproar ensued after Spectre and Meltdown exposed computer chip vulnerabilities, and VPNFilter malware exposed new dangers to routers and network-attached storage products. Once again, the biggest, most trusted brands suffered costly and damaging data breaches. Victims included Amazon and Facebook, Macy’s and Kmart, Adidas and Under Armour, Delta Airlines and Cathay Pacific — and that’s just a start. And concerns around the cyber tampering of our elections, including allegations of foreign hacking of the Democratic National Committee, along with new international security standards that put a greater onus on global corporations (such as the General Data Protection Regulation), made 2018 a busy year for cybersecurity followers.
Now that the New Year is upon us, it’s natural to wonder what to expect in the 12 months ahead. In truth, there will be dozens of plots and subplots, some based on continuing themes, others introducing new ones altogether. Here, however, are four key predictions that I think will have a profound influence on the cybersecurity industry for 2019.
1. Nations At Cyberwar
Perhaps it will begin with a skirmish rather than a major battle, but I predict that low-level cyberwarfare among the world’s most powerful players — the United States, China and Russia — will increasingly destabilize international relations and threaten to upset the world order. This goes behind voting machines, registered voter databases and other election-related technology. Remember when a Russian cyberattack cut off electricity to a quarter-million Ukrainians days before Christmas in 2015? I believe similar scenarios will occur with increasing frequency.
With digital technology wherever we look and the explosion of the internet of things (IoT), the possibilities of cyber-mayhem are limitless. Think of nuclear reactors, chemical plants and satellites in space — all are potentially vulnerable targets. State-sponsored attacks can come in all sizes, and many will likely be launched as warning shots. But in times of cyberwar, you don’t need to drop bombs to wipe out a country’s infrastructure. All it takes is a few expert hackers.
2. Supply-Chain Attacks Rise
Cybercriminals are diabolically savvy, and they realize that the easiest route to high-profile targets is through that organization’s network of suppliers and contractors. In 2019 supply-chain attacks will escalate as large corporations, which have enough trouble safeguarding assets already, open themselves up to greater risk as they grow their reliance on partnerships. The results can be catastrophic. The infamous 2013 Target breach was the result of an attack that had its origins through the retailer’s HVAC vendor.
Even more cautionary, perhaps, is the recent Bloomberg coverage on computer hardware manufacturer Super Micro. While the company — along with Apple, Amazon, the Department of Homeland Security and others — denies Chinese spies implanted secret chips on its motherboards as a means of cyber espionage to gather intelligence, Super Micro’s stock price plummeted temporarily as a result. In any case, the potential impact from a similar situation is clear, and Bloomberg’s story woke up unsuspecting tech manufacturers like a shot of adrenaline straight to the heart.
Because of these abundant dangers, many companies that rely on partners and third parties have created vendor risk management processes within their organizations. These can include policies around constant monitoring and log access and retention, which may sound difficult to meet but are already part of many regulatory compliance frameworks. Vendor risk management teams within organizations will become more commonplace as supply-chain attacks increase.
3. Cybersecurity Raises Its Profile In The Boardroom
In 2019, cybersecurity concerns will be a major topic in the boardroom and executive offices of every significant enterprise. Major data breaches suffered by leading firms across industries has struck fear into CEOs and other officers and board members that their company could be next. What’s more, partners, shareholders and customers now seek to hold corporate leaders ultimately responsible, and that sentiment is only heightened internally within organizations.
As the damages from breaches continue to become more evident — a lower bottom line, a plunging stock price, a tainted brand — responsibility for cybersecurity failures will go beyond the CIO’s and CISO’s oversight of the IT department and directly to the CEO’s office door. Many board discussions will revolve around mitigating cyber risks and how they can improve their organization’s security posture.
4. All Take An Enterprise Approach To Cybersecurity
Cybercriminals are equal-opportunity attackers. While breaches within huge corporations like Target and Equifax consume the headlines, businesses of every size are under attack, especially in industries like healthcare, law and finance which, by trade, store and manage vast amounts of sensitive data. In 2019, smaller firms will enlist the same cybersecurity approaches that large enterprises use. This means leveraging the benefits of a robust security operations center.
No longer willing to be a hacker’s low-hanging fruit, small- to midsize businesses and small enterprises will find ways to monitor and detect threats and respond when necessary. The impetus to do so will be accelerated by larger organizations, which will demand that businesses they work with meet certain cybersecurity standards. So, there’s both a carrot and a stick leading this new approach.
In the end, hackers today are developing more sophisticated attacks than ever before and 2019 will pit many ongoing battles. The good news is that companies today recognize the threats they face and are increasingly discovering new ways to better protect themselves.
Global Repository for Internet Studies is focused on creating a social enterprise platform that builds innovation and technological support systems and advocates rights in order to improve youth livelihoods in Africa.