Digital technology has brought about a seachange in how we go about our lives and how businesses and organizations operate, ushering in a data-driven information age. Along with the likes of gold, wheat, cotton, and oil, data has become one of the most valuable and important commodities of the 21st century. The internet is awash with data as more industries harness online tools to streamline their processes. Unfortunately, shifting to the online world opens up a pandora’s box of internet security threats, such as data breaches or thefts. In Q1 of 2022 alone, over 90% of data breaches stemmed from cyberattacks.
According to a recent Microsoft report, just as innovation underpins technology, so does it underpin cyberattacks, which are becoming even more sophisticated. Fortunately, there is an array of mitigating measures that you can introduce to help keep your data and information safe. Given the wide range of cyberattacks, individuals, companies, and organizations should harness multiple cybersecurity mechanisms to ensure that they are not leaving the door open to data theft.
Let’s look into the most significant cyber threats in 2022, and how some straightforward actions can spare your data from costly and time-consuming cyberattacks.
Zeroing in on zero-day attacks
A zero-day attack is a form of exploitation wherein developers unwittingly build a flaw into a piece of software. The name zero-day refers to the fact that once the flaw is identified, it represents an immediate security risk, meaning developers have ‘zero-days’ to fix it. The difficulty with built-in flaws is that they go unnoticed until found, making it a game of cat and mouse between cybersecurity teams and attackers.
In recent years, these attacks have been steadily rising, with 2021 seeing the most to date. Google’s web browsers have come under a zero-day attack this year, showing that no entity is immune. These sources of weakness could be ripe for exploitation, allowing cyberattackers to steal a treasure chest of data.
Despite these flaws being unknown entities, there are still mechanisms that can help to mitigate the risk of exposure. One of the most important preventative measures is to keep your software up to date. Software developers are always searching for chinks in software’s armor and developing new patches to keep their products as protected as possible. Each update could prove pivotal in data safeguarding. Also, keep in mind that when developers release new security updates, they effectively expose the weakness themselves, making the software a sitting duck until it’s updated.
Casting aside smishing attacks
Phishing attacks have long been a hindrance, cluttering up email inboxes and sometimes catching an unsuspecting victim off-guard. While we are yet to reach peak awareness of phishing attacks, the power of the email strategy after so many years. So hackers are turning to smishing, evidenced by the soaring number of these attacks, with 2021 alone seeing a 161% increase.
Cyberattackers target cell phones by sending text messages that often appear to come from banks, delivery services, or government agencies—these respectable organizations typically ask for personal information. The text messages are crafted to trick the recipient into clicking on a link to a supposedly legitimate website. In most cases, this triggers malware to install on the device, compromising personal data automatically, or the seemingly authentic website will lure people into handing over valuable personal or business information.
These attacks prey on people’s lack of technical know-how or awareness of such scams, making education vital to ward them off. At a minimum, organizations should issue guidelines to staff on staying safe and ensuring best practices are followed to protect data. But phishing awareness courses and training delivered by experts offer the best protection. These in-person or online workshops provide key insights into the threat posed by these attacks and how to spot a fraudulent text a mile off, raising staff awareness and minimizing risk.
Leaving cryptos in the cold
Cryptocurrencies are increasingly becoming part of the financial fabric of national and world economies. Unlike fiat currencies, they are fully digital and typically operate outside standard regulatory frameworks, making them low-hanging fruit for cyberattacks. Cryptocurrencies can be hard to trace and worth a mint. For example, one bitcoin is currently hovering around the $40,000 mark, making them highly lucrative targets.
Anyone following the financial news feed knows it is awash with instances of cryptocurrency theft through cyberattacks. In 2021 alone, North Korea stole $400 million worth of cryptocurrencies. Cyberattackers can harness an array of techniques to steal cryptocurrencies, including phishing, code exploits, and malware to drain investors’ wallets. With people’s interest in cryptocurrencies soaring, in part driven by the appeal of Elon Musk, 2022 looks set to be a defining year for crypto-security as the market and number of have-a-go crypto investors expand.
A hot or cold digital wallet protects cryptocurrency portfolios that a private key can only access. Hot wallets can fall prey to cyberattacks as they are accessible through the internet. However, cold wallets are fully detached from the world wide web, typically being stored in paper form or on a digital device with no network features. Best practices for cyber security would be to trade using your hot wallet but leave your crypto assets beyond the reach of the internet in cold wallets.
Nation-state inspired B2B attacks
Trans-national B2B cyber attacks are very likely to dominate the cybersecurity world in 2022, as other nation-states seek to steal intellectual property and further political aims. The ongoing global technology arms race underpins the sheer value of data, making cyberattacks a lucrative business. Cybercrime happens in the online realm, where national borders are just lines on a map, meaning the onus falls on individuals and entities to protect themselves.
According to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, China represents the biggest global threat to U.S. businesses, defense infrastructure, and financial services, amongst other key institutions. China has built up formidable cyber power over recent years and has already conducted some high-profile attacks, including one against Microsoft Exchange in 2021. Also, off the back of the war in Ukraine, Russia presents a bigger threat to cybersecurity than at any other time. The U.S. and its allies expect state-sponsored cyberattacks from Russia in response to economic and political sanctions.
Whilst many systems can help protect against these kinds of attacks, Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) systems provide an integrated and automated protection solution. These systems deploy real-time monitoring and analysis to identify and protect against threats automatically. Being fully integrated systems, they offer the best and least labor-intensive solution to your cybersecurity woes. Moreover, data encryption is a highly effective tool, such as SSL encryption protocols, especially when sharing or transferring data, rendering it unreadable if stolen.
An onion approach to cybersecurity
As well as the strategies outlined above for each threat, every cybersecurity team should adopt an overarching onion approach to safeguarding their IT systems. The onion approach is based on having multi-layered cybersecurity, meaning any attackers would have to penetrate various layers of protection before reaching any sensitive data. IT systems should incorporate as many tools as possible, including antivirus software, firewalls, encryption tools, and penetration testing, plugging any cybersecurity gaps. But this doesn’t simply include tools: people and effective processes are also a part of the proverbial onion.
Above all, remember that cyberattackers are looking for easy pickings. We would all have the most state-of-the-art cybersecurity in a perfect world, but unfortunately, budgets do not always stretch that far. Nevertheless, even having a basic cybersecurity setup can go a long way in staving off cyberattacks, along with seemingly minor practices, including stronger passwords, not sharing logins, and logging out when leaving computers.