Firmware attacks, sophisticated ransomware and ID fraud -- cybercrime predictions for 2021

Cybercrime cash

2020 has seen cybercriminals step up their efforts to exploit the surge of people working from home, as well as seeking to exploit news and information about the pandemic.

This is a notoriously difficult area to predict, but what do experts think we’ll see happening in 2021?

Liviu Arsene, global cybersecurity researcher at Bitdefender expects to see more attacks on firmware, "As competition in the cybercrime world tightens, malware operators will increasingly focus on burying their creations deeper into compromised systems. Attacks against firmware, previously thought of as extremely complex and difficult to achieve, will likely become mainstream in 2021. Abuse of tools like RwEverything might lead to a significant increase in firmware attacks, particularly on systems where the manufacturer hasn't correctly configured the firmware to block unauthorized rewrites. Ransomware authors will also likely target device firmware to block devices and render a system unusable until victims pay the ransom."


He also thinks, "Home routers and computers will continue to get hacked. Threat actors specialized in hijacking devices will either rent access to other groups seeking distributed command and control capabilities or sell them in bulk to underground operators to reuse as proxy nodes to conceal malicious activity."

Derek Manky, chief, security insights and global threat alliances at FortiGuard Labs thinks the edge will be targeted too, "2020 demonstrated the ability of cyber adversaries to leverage dramatic changes happening in our daily lives as new opportunities for attacks at an unprecedented scale. Going into 2021 and beyond, we face another significant shift with the rise of new intelligent edges, which is about more than just end-users and devices remotely connecting to the network. Targeting these emerging edges will not only create new attack vectors, but groups of compromised devices could work in concert to target victims at 5G speeds. To get out ahead of this coming reality, all edges must be part of a larger, integrated, and automated security fabric platform that operates across the core network, multi-cloud environments, branch offices, and remote workers."

Charles Eagan, CTO at BlackBerry believes the healthcare sector will remain a focus:

From criminals looking to make a quick buck, to state-sponsored actors, criminals are targeting COVID-19 research with alarming frequency. As the pandemic’s effects rage on across the globe, that trend will only continue to grow. For this life-saving research to continue unfettered, the inherent threats on this research simply cannot be ignored. Healthcare has always been an attractive target for cybercriminals, and cybersecurity needs to be as much a part of the cure as research into the virus itself.

There are multiple reports that nefarious actors have attempted to steal COVID-19 vaccine research from multiple organizations in Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom. The recent vaccine announcements from Pfizer and Moderna will only raise the risk of attack, particularly since the candidate vaccines have demonstrated a 90+ percent efficacy rate in preventing COVID-19 infections.

Researchers at Immuniweb expect to see a surge in sophisticated ransomware, "Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS) will become readily available to anyone capable of buying Bitcoin or other digital currencies. Contrasted to countless money-losing startups, today's cybercrime scene is characterized by maturity, effective division of labor and high profitability: some groups develop sophisticated malware, others prepare large-scale attacks, or provide multilinguistic phone support for victims in order to facilitate payment of ransom in Bitcoin."

Robert Prigge, CEO of Jumio expects identity fraud to be a problem, "As transactions have shifted online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, identity fraud will become a major concern across all sectors as institutions struggle to verify their online customers are who they claim to be. In fact, fraudsters have seized opportunities provided by this shift to online transactions, causing networks' fraud rates to increase by 60 percent (source: Feedzai). Not only was there more fraud attempted, but the dollar value of each attempted fraudulent transaction was also 5.5 percent higher than it had been the six months preceding the pandemic. Organizations will shift from using data-based approaches of identity proofing (such as using credit bureau or census data) to document-centric identity proofing (using a government-issued ID and a selfie) to verify online users. With traditional authentication methods and data-based identity proofing, there is no way to know if a person logging in is the actual user or someone is using readily-available stolen information from the dark web. In 2021, enterprises will increasingly favor document-centric identity verification to deter fraudulent login attempts."

Brian Honan, CEO of BH Consulting and board member at SafeGuard Cyber says, "Criminals will look to make their phishing and social engineering attacks much more targeted and personal, whether those attacks are launched against individuals or against organizations via key staff. This means our social media activity will provide criminals with more ammunition and capabilities to make their attacks seem more convincing and personal. Personal data leaked online through social media will become weaponized. While this is nothing new, the change will be where criminals will automate this information gathering and attacks. In addition, while companies improve their defenses in relation to email, criminals will look at other channels to launch attacks against companies and this will be via their social media channels."

Anurag Kahol, CTO and co-founder of Bitglass expects more attacks on the finance sector and thinks they may be boosted by 5G:

Financial services organizations and other firms that are responsible for the security of consumer financial data must remain vigilant in their cybersecurity efforts throughout 2021. The high value of financial data, including Social Security numbers, banking details, and more, makes it a lucrative target for cybercriminals.

It's true that financial services firms are not breached as frequently as those in other industries like healthcare. However, when financial firms are breached, these incidents tend to be much larger and more detrimental than those experienced by companies in other industries. For example, even though seven percent of breaches in 2019 occurred at financial services companies, 62 percent of all records leaked in that same year were from financial organizations.

With the projected rise of new technologies -- like 5G -- throughout the new year, the sophistication of cybercriminals' attacks will likely be enhanced. Consequently, it is imperative that financial organizations (and all companies in heavily regulated industries) take a proactive approach to data protection.

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