2020 has been a roller coaster of a year, in general as well as in cybersecurity. We’ve come a long way since the early days of the pandemic, and as we get ready for a new, and hopefully much better year ahead, it’s good to take a look back and examine the biggest cybersecurity trends that defined the year 2020.
The explosion of COVID scams and the vulnerability of Australian businesses
COVID hit the business world like a freight train and shook the very foundations of our comfortable, traditional work-from-office practices. Almost overnight, Australian businesses had to figure out how to go remote, or risk going out of business altogether. Whenever there’s a shift as massive as this, there is going to be a lot of anxiety and uncertainty all around, and a truckload of opportunities for enterprising hackers.
And true to form, the cybercriminal community did not disappoint. Australians have been drowning in fake websites, scam emails and fake news, all clamouring to snatch our private data right out of our hands. In February to March alone, reports found a 100x increase in COVID-19 themed malicious files in the wild. That number has been climbing higher ever since.
Why boards and executives need to lead the charge against ransomware
Australian businesses have been notoriously slow to adapt to digital ways of working, which has left them more vulnerable to risk, but the good news is that awareness of cyber threats is growing rapidly. According to Gartner in June 2020, corporate boards today are more informed about cyber risk, with just 15% of directors reporting their boards had very little to no knowledge of cyber risk, down from 22% in 2015.
This is not an insignificant thing. With ransomware attacks growing more frequent and more vicious, companies need their boards and senior executives to lead the charge against cyber threats and invest in making Australian enterprises more cyber resilient.
Ultimately, the board and senior executives have the power to make organisation-wide changes and enforce them, in effect, building a culture of cybersecurity. They have to lead by example, which means they need to have a grasp of the key cyber issues their organisation faces, from a security and a risk management perspective.
Cybercriminals are also turning their attention towards high-profile targets like CEOs. Just by sending fake emails pretending to be from a company CEO, hackers can manipulate their staff and their workers to pull off small-time scams, fraudulent wire transfers or full-scale ransomware attacks. Senior leadership needs to understand the severity of the risk and make sure they have the tools and training in place to defend against it.
State-based actors becoming an overarching threat to businesses of all sizes
In the wake of the Prime Minister’s announcement that a sophisticated state-based cyber actor is targeting Australian organisations, there’s been a lot of buzz and speculation about the motives behind such an attack. Whether the goal is disruption, financial gain or blackmail, the point is, any organisation of any size can be at risk. Cybercriminal groups aren’t overly picky about who they target; their goal is to chase the low-hanging fruit and steal any sensitive data they can. That stolen data can be held for blackmail, or just sold off on the black market.
And given the speed at which Australian businesses are going digital, the risk is very real and immediate. Fortunately, just following some basic cyber hygiene habits and raising awareness in your organisation can be some of the most powerful defences you can have against cybercriminals.
Ransomware grows more ambitious and routinely threatens to publish confidential data
According to Mimecast’s State of Email Security 2020 report, 51% of respondents said they had suffered a ransomware attack that impacted business operations during the past 12 months, suffering an average of three days of downtime. Cybercriminals have realised the value in attacking big companies, and given the state of cybersecurity in many of them, it’s not surprising. Some companies have reported sophisticated and large-scale attacks, costing them upwards of $50 million in cleanup costs and lost business in some cases.
There’s also an increase in hackers threatening to publish confidential data publicly if their demands are not met. This can be devastating for organisations that deal with highly sensitive and privileged information. And email is still the number one vulnerability these hackers target.
Insider threats are more dangerous than any hacker group
2020 has been a hard year. With rising unemployment, uncertainty and political instability around the globe, we can expect to see a rising number of cyber threats. And while you can get the latest cybersecurity technologies and talent to fend off external threats, an even bigger danger comes from within companies themselves. Insider threats can turn into massive cyber incidents and are incredibly difficult to defend against. Anyone from a malicious office worker to a minor slip-up by a well-intentioned employee can lead to logins, passwords, and data falling into the hands of criminals. Threats like this are also very difficult to defend against. New approaches like zero trust are emerging to address the problem, but the best defences are still awareness training and making sure basic cybersecurity practices are followed across the organisation.