The Future Will Be Hacked

The rapid growth of digital interconnectivity has made communication and information sharing faster and more convenient. But the interconnectivity of our computers, smartphones, automobiles, televisions, thermostats, refrigerators, and other devices also raises serious security, safety, and privacy concerns.

Emerging trends in cybersecurity is the focus of Navigant’s third in a series of reports in recognition of National Cyber Security Awareness Month, an observance sponsored each October by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the nonprofit National Cyber Security Alliance.

Navigant’s global legal technology solutions information security team identifies three developments surrounding our use of the internet and how digital interconnectivity offers us both greater rewards and higher potential risks.

Growth of Hybrid Ransomware
It’s bad enough when hackers take control of a computer network and block access until the victim pays a ransom to unlock the system. Now hackers are embedding malware behind some versions of ransomware, continuing to infect computer systems even after the ransom is paid. This so-called hybrid ransomware allows hackers to secretly remain hidden within a computer system, searching through sensitive files and perhaps biding their time before launching a second attack. It’s not particularly sporting for a hacker to attack a victim twice. But cybercriminals don’t ascribe to a code of conduct.

Attack on the Internet of Things
The internet of things (IoT) refers to the growing interconnectivity of devices we use to communicate and store and share information. The internet increasingly connects our mobile devices, work computers, cars, televisions, thermostats, and refrigerators, among other items. But that growing connectivity increases the exposure to attacks. A modest attack could be a matter of inconvenience: a hacker takes control of a thermostat and demands a bitcoin payment to unlock the device. But what if the attack cuts off a thermostat during a heat wave? What if the air conditioning is shut off in a nursing home? Which leads to another concern: utilities and hospitals are increasingly becoming part of the IoT. An attack that shuts off a city’s power, or cripples a hospital’s life-support systems, is no longer a matter of inconvenience, but a matter of life or death.

Nation-State Attacks
Nation-states, such as North Korea, China, and Russia, have the intelligence apparatus and the infrastructure to carry out massive cyber attacks. And the threat could only grow worse. It was one thing when North Korea was accused of hacking the Sony Pictures email server. But it became more concerning when Russia was suspected of using hacks to influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Today, most states are bracing for attacks for the 2018 midterm elections. But consider other vulnerabilities, such as the nation’s energy grids. There was evidence of a recent attack on U.S. power companies, as North Korea tried to take down the power grid. Hackers briefly shut down the security camera system in Washington, D.C., days before the presidential inauguration. And an attack using ransomware called WannaCry shut down 65 hospitals in the United Kingdom.

Glimpse into the Future
The lesson to be learned from these three emerging trends is that with the explosion of digital interconnectivity, it’s critical to explore everyone’s role in protecting our cyber ecosystem. While there are tremendous benefits to having interconnectivity, there are also great risks. With the development of new forms of connectivity must also come strategies to ensure privacy, security, and safety.

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