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“These are not cybersecurity predictions for 2019”

By Contributor
Fri 25 Jan 2019
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Article by ThreatQuotient Strategy SVP  by Jonathan Couch

As 2019 approaches, cybersecurity professionals are beginning to share their predictions for the coming year. I am not a big fan of these types of predictions. That’s because what actually happens in any given year tends to be more of the same with one or two new, unique industry targets or types of attacks that have evolved.  For the most part, threat actors aren't really that advanced or even "genius." They are just very good at taking advantage of the bureaucracy of security operations, networks and users to allow them to make some money or steal information.

What we can say about 2019 is that attackers will increase those simple attacks that worked and leave behind those that didn't work as well. With that in mind, I will share my thoughts on the unique attack vectors and big headlines we can expect in 2019.

OT networks

"OT" is Operational Technology: basically, the guts of what runs a lot of oil, gas and energy companies when it comes to extraction, generation and distribution. Most companies that have OT networks have snubbed technologies designed to secure IT networks because OT networks are "special." They rely much more heavily on uptime and low latency and leverage unique technologies that traditional security tools may disrupt, so segregating these networks and only layer in minimal security. Most of the investment is put into monitoring tools such as performance monitoring rather than security monitoring.

In reality, modern OT networks run very similarly to traditional IT networks, but with fewer users and typically much older technology. I believe the big secret they are trying to hide by not implementing thorough security is that modern tools will not help much with the older technology and they do not want to invest in another IT network where the costs could skyrocket. Because of this conundrum, 2019 is likely to have at least one major attack against an OT network that will cause the industry to take a good look at itself and figure out how to redesign in a secure manner.

IoT

IoT (Internet of Things - e.g., home automation) has long been the whipping child of security Armageddon predictions. I can find it in most predictions over the past five years, including my own!

The fact remains, though, that IoT security is still very weak at best. IoT devices are flooding the market and they are still at that point in the maturity curve where usability is much more important than security. The providers are trying to create and expand a market of users with new and unique ways to automate our lives. Their focus is on capabilities and being first to market versus secure automation and investing their limited development resources to create functionality that is also secure.

In 2019 we will start to hear more and more about IoT attacks. IoT will become a major target once someone figures out how to monetise it. If threat actors can start to steal cars through an app (by unlocking and starting the car remotely) or gain access to user and/or banking information through smart meters outside homes, then they will start to target those technologies.

I go back to my previous statement on attackers: Attackers tend to go for easy targets that will get them the biggest buck for the bang. So IoT has a little more maturing and little more market adoption to go before it becomes a major and regular target. That doesn't keep it off my list, though. Attackers are looking at it and thinking about it. If someone finds a unique way to profit from these technologies or if a new product is launched during this holiday season that everyone just has to have, then 2019 may in fact be the year that IoT scams start in earnest.

I'm still waiting for the robot calls to my virtual assistant to start. It's just a matter of time...

Collaboration: It's a thing

The term "shared situational awareness" was a huge thing in the U.S. military in the 1990s and early 2000s. There was a ton of money going into projects that would tie together unique solutions (air war, ground war, sea war command and control maps, for example) so that a joint task force commander would know what each unit under him or her was doing. These technologies also served the purpose of sharing data between the services and sometimes between countries so that we all knew what others were doing, thereby reducing duplication of effort and preventing friendly fire incident.

Along those philosophical lines, security collaboration (collaboration and communication between security teams) could become a big thing during 2019. It is ironic that most organisations have jumped on the external information and intelligence sharing bandwagon, but very few have solid collaboration and information sharing between their internal security teams (Security Operations Centres, Incident Response, Threat Hunting, Red Team, Threat Intelligence, Vulnerability Management). The IR Team will spend hours and days collecting information and researching threats in order to remediate a breach, but that information is rarely centralised in a way that the SOC or other security teams can leverage it. The same happens when other teams perform similar work; it is rarely shared across the organisation in a way that it becomes stored and historical knowledge.

This lack of communication and collaboration is usually what attackers rely on in their attacks. In my past, working in offensive cyber operations, we called it "finding the seams." Identifying those areas where people, process or technology butt up against each other but don’t really overlap. Attackers could rely on information not being shared or handed off properly or efficiently, and could exploit that seem to gain access and hide.

While taking advantage of the lack of collaboration isn't new or unique, an expectation I have for 2019 will be the emergence of more technologies that address security team collaboration and the use of current technologies to better enable cross-team communication and shared situational awareness. Something will happen that should have been preventable that will highlight this lack of collaboration and leave organisations scrambling to seal those seams.

I stated in the beginning that these aren’t really predictions but areas to watch in 2019. That said, organisations with OT networks, or incorporating IoT devices into their environments, or grappling with silos between tools and teams should do more than watch. Start considering now how to align resources to get ahead of these possible attack vectors and stay out of the headlines in the new year.

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