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The Cyber Threat Landscape Is Changing. You Need a Comprehensive Cyber Protection Strategy to Keep Up

By Staff Reporter , Aug 01, 2020 10:30 AM EDT

The digital threat landscape is evolving fast. Really fast. 

So fast that there's a good chance your organization is struggling to keep up. Or perhaps you've stopped trying, reasoning that it's better to defend against the threats you understand or feel are most likely to affect your company than to implement a comprehensive plan to protect what's yours.

The Cyber Threat Landscape Is Changing. You Need a Comprehensive Cyber Protection Strategy to Keep Up

If you find yourself in the second boat, you have a great deal of company. Unfortunately, you're also doing a disservice to your team, your shareholders, your customers, and any other stakeholders who rely on your company's continued existence.

It's understandable that you would want to throw up your hands and retrench. A 2019 report from Malwarebytes spotlights a host of disturbing trends in the cyber threat landscape, including the emergence of AI-enhanced malware that has thus far proven devastatingly effective at hitting (and often crippling) its targets. The report discusses software worms that are "capable of avoiding detection by learning from each detection event" and trojans that "create new file versions of themselves to fool detection routines" with the help of machine learning, among other scary-sounding threats.

If you agree that such threats are worth defending against, you've taken a first step toward protecting your corporate data, systems, and applications. But you've yet to take the most important step on that journey: implementing a comprehensive cyber protection strategy.

It's not as difficult as it sounds. The components of a comprehensive cyber protection strategy are easy to understand and achieve with the right partner and solution. And the threats against which cyber protection exists to defend are so numerous and plentiful that the business case for investing in such a solution is all but assured.

Components of a Comprehensive Cyber Protection Strategy

Every comprehensive cyber protection strategy should incorporate five components that build upon one another, providing redundant yet complementary protection from a wide array of possible digital and real-world threats. 

When properly constructed and implemented, the net result of a comprehensive cyber protection strategy is a powerful set of controls that work around the clock to reduce the risk of adverse impacts from cyber attacks, natural disasters, human error, insider threats, and much more. 

With your strategy in place, you can rest easy that your organization faces a greatly reduced likelihood of a serious outage or interruption and will be well-placed to bounce back should one occur.

1. Safety

Your cyber protection solution should create and retain reliable and authentic copies of your entire digital footprint, including your applications, data, and systems, and make them available on demand at all times. 

2. Accessibility

Your solution must empower your team and any other trusted stakeholders to access the systems, data, and applications they're authorized to access from anywhere at any time.

3. Privacy

As the license holder of your cyber protection solution, you have every right to enjoy complete control over access and visibility into your digital footprint. No one should be able to access your systems, applications, and data without express permission, and there should be no workarounds. 

4. Authenticity

All comprehensive cyber protection solutions must include the ability to create certifiable, undeniable proof that copied data and applications are precise replicas of their originals.

5. Security

Saving the best for last - any comprehensive cyber protection solution must provide effective and total protection against all emerging and established digital threats, regardless of novelty or pervasiveness, without shortchanging effectiveness against longstanding threats to legacy systems that some protection systems overlook.

20 Threats Your Cyber Protection Strategy Can Anticipate & Defend Against

Okay, we've seen how a comprehensive cyber protection solution should look in the real world. It's a slam dunk that you should implement yours at the earliest possible juncture, right?

If "yes," you can stop reading right now. But perhaps you need a bit more convincing, a few more nudges toward the conclusion you know you must reach. If that's truly the case, we present an abbreviated list of some of the many threats against which your cyber protection strategy can defend.

1. Low-Cost, High-Disruption Ransomware

Ransomware is no longer the "it thing" in the world of malware. It's now an established threat that's well known to white hats, black hats, and everyone in between.

What ransomware attackers may have lost in terms of the element of surprise, they've made up in ongoing innovation and the essentially low-stakes nature of their craft. Ransomware is difficult to defend against because it's easy to insert and devastating in its impact; often, recovering from an attack means scrapping the affected data or systems and starting from square one. A cyber protection solution with fulsome backup and recovery makes such recovery far, far easier.

2. AI-Enhanced Worms

Back to those AI-enhanced worms, if you can bear to think of them again. Malwarebytes cites a hypothetical worm that could change its code to evade detection or add randomness to its behavior to shake off any pattern-matching detection. 

The WannaCry worm shows that it is possible for a clever worm to circulate around the world for years on end. Now, imagine one that's able to learn on the fly. 

3. AI-Enhanced Trojans

The pros at Malwarebytes identify one extant trojan, Swizzor, that already behaves as if it's AI-enhanced, even though there's no evidence that that is the case. Swizzor is able to fool detection routines by writing variation into its replication process, such that new versions of itself look and behave differently from their progenitors. Eventually, an AI-enhanced trojan will come along and improve on this ability, with possibly devastating consequences for infected machines.

4. Novel AI-Enhanced Threats

Some AI-enhanced threats defy easy categorization. One example cited in the Malwarebytes report is DeepLocker, a malware program created by IBM in 2018. DeepLocker creators Jiyong Jang and Dhilung Kirat describe it as "designed to be stealthy...It flies under the radar, avoiding detection until the precise moment it recognizes a specific target." This is made all the more easy by DeepLocker's disguise: video-conferencing software, which couldn't be more in demand at the moment.

5. Malicious Content and Fake News

Whether enabled by AI or not, malicious content and fake news inject unpredictability into corporate routines and can lead to drastic internal action being taken in error or customer attrition based on misleading information or outright lies. Any cyber protection solution must anticipate and plan for this eventuality.

6. State-Sponsored Sabotage and Malware

About a decade ago, a malware program called Stuxnet crippled Iran's nuclear program in a highly targeted strike. Likely the result of a U.S.-Israeli cyber-offense partnership, the program achieved its primary mission with minimal collateral damage. But there was still collateral damage in certain industrial end-users with no connection to Iran. A sloppier such attack could cause far more carnage.

7. Deepfakes

An AI-powered variant of malicious content, deepfakes lead us to question our own eyes. Needless to say, they present an unacceptable risk to organizations that adhere to the old-fashioned notion that one's word is one's bond.

8. Disgruntled Employees and Other Insider Threats

Against a backdrop of increasing corporate competition and widening economic uncertainty, the risk of insider threats has never been higher. Unfortunately, preventing insider attacks is notoriously difficult, but a comprehensive cyber protection solution can certainly help with robust authorization and authentication procedures. Cyber protection also reduces the cost and duration of post-incident cleanup.

9. Employee and Contractor Error

Not all problems caused by insiders and other trusted parties are malicious or intentional. Often, simple and innocent errors are to blame, although the results are no easier to accept when that's the case. It's vital that your cyber protection solution anticipate and address potential errors, whether it's a simple "fat finger" entry mistake that temporarily affects your systems or a lost laptop containing highly privileged information.

10. Insecure Vendor and Contractor IT

Many high-profile corporate hacks and breaches have been traced back to vendors and contractors that failed to properly secure their computer systems or endpoints. The Target hack of 2013 is one of the best-known examples; the story of the breach is well worth reading for any decision makers who'd like to avoid Target's fate. 

11. Poor Endpoint Security for Remote Workers

Now that many organizations have moved all nonessential team members to remote status for the foreseeable future, endpoint security is a massive vulnerability. Taking low-cost, high-effectiveness steps like using a VPN and antimalware software is clearly essential. But a comprehensive cyber protection solution provides additional layers of protection, not to mention post-incident resiliency, that could make all the difference.

12. Man-in-the-Middle Attacks

By the time you realize you're the victim of a man-in-the-middle (MITM) attack, it could be too late. The same precautions that reinforce remote endpoints, such as VPN usage, may bear fruit in the ongoing fight against MITM. A comprehensive cyber protection solution provides additional protection and resilience in the event of a successful attack.

13. Phishing and Spear phishing Emails

Email threats are not going away anytime soon, despite being one of the best known vulnerabilities among nontechnical decision makers. Teaching email hygiene best practices is absolutely vital as you onboard new employees and contractors or move to new systems with different vulnerabilities. 

14. API Vulnerabilities

APIs are increasingly fundamental to the digital landscape. Unfortunately, they're also highly vulnerable to exploitation when not properly constructed or safeguarded. A cyber protection solution that fails to anticipate API-related threats can't truthfully describe itself as comprehensive.

15. Social Engineering Attacks

The July 2020 attack that temporarily commandeered dozens of high-profile Twitter handles, compelling them to tweet out requests for Bitcoin, threw the social media network offline temporarily (and the social media world into chaos). Later, it was revealed that a compromised (and highly compensated) Twitter employee provided the attackers with the "keys" to make the attack possible, making the incident the most visible and disruptive example of "social engineering" to date. As the old saying goes, everyone has a price.

16. Cloudjacking

Cloudjacking is a nefarious little trick by which attackers convince victims to follow malicious links disguised as trusted ones. In some ways, it's a variation on phishing, but the disguise is often better and the motivations of the attackers less transparent. Like MITM attacks, cloudjacking is subtle and victimization often isn't immediately apparent, for better or worse.

17. Natural and Manmade Disasters

We might not think of it as such, but we're living through multiple slow-motion natural disasters right now. The two at the tops of most decision makers' minds are climate change, whose effects are taking shape on a timescale measured in decades, and the coronavirus pandemic, whose timescale is more compressed but is no less harmful for it.

You've almost certainly experienced some strategic setbacks as a result of the pandemic. You're almost certain to experience future setbacks as a result of climate change, if you haven't already: fire, flood, storm damage, and on and on. Your cyber protection strategy, and your broader corporate security strategy, must anticipate these eventualities.

Are You Ready for an Uncertain Digital Future?

No one disputes that we're living through an uncertain time right now. Sadly, history tells us that our expectations of a return to normalcy, let alone the prior status quo, is simply not in the cards. When the world changes, it remains changed, and its inhabitants do their best to adjust.

This is true across the board, but nowhere is the need to anticipate and adjust to an uncertain future (call it a "new normal" if you prefer) more acute for business owners and decision makers than in the realm of cybersecurity. The pace of innovation is much, much quicker in the tech world in general, and in the cybersecurity arms race in particular. Indeed, despite our best efforts, some (and eventually much) of the information in this overview is likely to be out of date before long.

The short shelf-life of cybersecurity trends and cyber protection best practices should not stop you from devising and implementing a comprehensive cyber protection structure, of course. An ideal cyber protection solution is future-proof, meaning it evolves in real time as threats change and retains its protective ability, come what may. 

Now that you know what you're up against in an uncertain digital (and "real world") future, you surely see your excuses for further delay falling by the wayside. Why not take the first step toward implementing your comprehensive cyber protection solution today - before it's too late?

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