Cybersecurity efforts in the UK have been focused on the health industry, as hackers and cybercriminals set their sights on a burdened NHS during the Covid-19 pandemic, a recent report by the Kingdom’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) stated.
“What we’ve done as an organization is really pivot towards the health sector to try and give them the best support we can in thinking about their cyber defense to let them focus on responding to the pandemic,” Lindy Cameron, CEO of the NCSC said.
According to the report, protecting healthcare has been a top priority during the pandemic.
To achieve this, the NCSC introduced measures including the design of a new back-up service, pioneering discovery tradecraft and deploying analysts to look at NHS threat data.
This was facilitated by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) signing a “Direction” giving the NCSC consent to check the security of NHS IT systems.
As a result, more than one million NHS IP addresses were supported, over 160 high-risk and critical vulnerabilities were identified and shared, and threat hunting performed on 1.4 million endpoints.
In terms of the NHS support, out of the 723 cyberattacks that occurred within the UK this year, 230 of them were Covid-19-related incidents, representing almost a third of all total cybersecurity breaches.
The 230 attacks are estimated to have affected almost 1,200 victims that the NCSC has helped deal with during the course of the past year, rendering it the highest number of incidents since the NCSC was established.
Unfortunately, the number of attacks will continue to rise, as technological advancements surge amid the pandemic and as hackers become more ambitious.
The report also revealed that in July a Russian cyber group thought to be connected to Russian intelligence, targeted organizations involved in coronavirus vaccine development.
“The expertise of the NCSC, as part of GCHQ, has been invaluable in keeping the country safe: enabling us to defend our democracy, counter high levels of malicious state and criminal activity, and protect against those who have tried to exploit the pandemic,” said Jeremy Fleming, Director of GCHQ.
The nationwide move to remote work also posed a new challenge for the NCSC who saw a large increase in phishing emails. In total, the NCSC responded to more than 200 incidents related to Coronavirus and scanned over one million NHS IP addresses to detect cybersecurity weaknesses.
“The years ahead are likely to be just as challenging, but I am confident that in the NCSC we have developed the capabilities, relationships and approaches to keep the UK at the forefront of global cybersecurity,” Fleming added.
The cybersecurity body was able to roll out Active Cyber Defense services, including Web Check, Mail Check, and protective DNS, to 235 front-line health bodies across the UK, including NHS Trusts to shield them against phishing attacks and other threats.
In parallel, the report highlighted that the NCSC has dealt with three times more ransomware attacks than it did last year as attacks become more targeted and more aggressive; while 260 SMS Sender IDs were blocked due to their suspicion of being used in malicious SMS campaigns with Coronavirus as their theme, such as spoofing legitimate government or healthcare IDs.
This was in correlation with almost 15,000 Coronavirus-related malicious campaigns taken down by the NCSC and its commercial partner, Netcraft.
Cybersecurity trends in 2021: Learning from a harsh year
This year has been unlike any other in living memory, barely any aspects of our lives have been spared by the impact of the worst public health crisis in decades.
The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic shifted the way we lead our day-to-day, laying bare to our collective fragility, while greatly heightening our sense of uncertainty. The effects of which will have a long-lasting aftertaste of how our reality has changed, as well as in the unforeseeable future.
The seismic shift caused by the pandemic, also fueled our embrace of technology by increasing our reliance on connectivity and pushing digital transformation into overdrive. Yet, with this reliance on the digital realm, comes risks and potential threats looking to take advantage of the situation.
Reports and breaking news stories throughout the year proved that cybercriminals were quick to adapt to this new norm, exploiting the pandemic and remote working circumstances to profit.
While most of the cybersecurity trends that emerged throughout the year will likely spill over into 2021, there is no definitive way to pinpoint how the cybersecurity landscape will look like a year from now.
However, by monitoring the current events that shaped this year, experts can foresee the areas that will be affected by cyberattacks, as well as the practices that will persist.
Let’s jump right in.
1- Remote workers will remain targeted
Remote workers are the golden nugget of cybercriminals far and wide, which is why they’ll continue being the prime targets for hackers. The reason behind this is due to them operating and using their own devices and Wi-Fi connection to conduct their work.
Home networks aren’t as fortified as their corporate counterparts, at the end of the day, no one has an IT team hanging about in their closet. In parallel, a large number of businesses weren’t properly prepared for the shift to remote work, making homebound workers easier to target.
According to a report published by VMware, a U.S.-based cybersecurity software company, global organizations saw a 148 percent spike in ransomware attacks in March of 2020, just when businesses began to make the shift to remote work.
“Attackers have been using COVID-19 to launch phishing attacks, fake apps/maps, trojans, backdoors, crypto miners, botnets and ransomware,” the report explained.
2- Automation for all the wrong reasons
To deal with the slash in profits, companies have been scrambling to find ways to put security solutions and their remote staff on the same table, signaling the use of hyper automation.
Hyper automation consists of integrating artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and robot process automation (RPA) to automate their processes or any other task.
According to market estimates, artificial intelligence in the cybersecurity market is projected to grow from USD 8.8 billion in 2019 to USD 38.2 billion by 2026 at a CAGR of 23.3 percent.
Hackers have taken note of this and have started to develop their very own software disguised as an AI-automation software. Tricking remote workers to install this fake software will allow cybercriminals to pinpoint areas of defense, while marking vulnerabilities.
Using the data gathered by the software, it gives hackers the know-how to slip past or attack similar defensive software.
This is dangerous in every sense of the word since it allows attackers to subtly slip through the cracks faster and at a much stealthier rate; they’ll know before they attack what they are looking for, what to avoid, and how to escape unnoticed.
3- The rise of 5G
Our online behavior changes each year, with every new emergence of technologies that heavily impact our lives. And as the fifth generation of mobile networks begins to softly rollout internationally, our reliance on cloud-based systems grows.
Both B2B and B2C sectors will soon have the opportunity, and later be mandated, to shift toward 5G data management technology. According to Leftronic, 5G is expected to cover almost 40 percent of the world by 2024 with data transfer speeds of up to 10GB/s.
While there exists a plethora of reasons as to how 5G will better our lives, the same could be said about the potential risks that may accompany it.
High-speed data transfers will equip hackers with the ability to infect data packets and conduct corporate espionage at a much faster and subtle rate. Companies will need to revamp and beef up their cybersecurity teams to maintain a high level of security and surveillance for their sensitive data.
According to Cybersecurity Ventures, the cybersecurity talent crunch is expected to create 3.5 million unfilled cybersecurity jobs by 2021, up by 350 percent from 1 million positions in 2014.
4- Cloud attacks
While businesses across the globe were slowly migrating their work to the cloud in pre-COVID times, the pandemic acted as a catalyst for the same, as it acted as a notable ally to ensure business continuity across the board.
According to IDC, the global cloud services market spending is projected to reach USD 1 trillion in 2024, at a CAGR of 15.7 percent during the forecast period 2020-24.
Cloud-based security threats, including misconfigured cloud storage, reduced visibility and control, incomplete data deletion, and vulnerable cloud-apps, will continue to disrupt businesses in the future ahead.
5- IoT security concerns
With 5G’s slow ascension to power brings with it a myriad of technological advancements within its entourage, and the hardest hitter among them is the Internet of Things (IoT).
IoT is on the rise not only for commercial use, but also on the B2B end, most notably in the industrial sector which has laid the ground for transformations in critical infrastructures such as healthcare, automotive, maritime, shipping, and much more.
While this will help shape and fuel the digital revolution, in parallel, it opens the door for many risks and breaches on the cybersecurity level.
“Not only is more data being shared through the IoT, among many more participants, but more sensitive data is being shared. As a result, the risks are exponentially greater,” a report by Deloitte highlighted.
According to American research and advisory firm Gartner, there will be 25 billion Internet-connected things by 2020, and close to $2 trillion of economic benefit globally. That’s a lot of IoT devices and the biggest question is, can tech companies secure all these objects from threats?
A single compromised node can be leveraged to break into corporate networks with severe consequences. Insecure designs and architectures will result in non-encrypted personal data, hardcoded passwords, software, and firmware updates from unverified sources.
This means every IoT design should start with security. Giant tech firms as well as startups should incorporate security into the initial design process, while adding layers of security to protect people from the cyberattacks vis-à-vis giving them more control over the devices themselves.
6- Data, the new oil
Every single click, swipe, visit, and view is the creation of data, a digital footprint that gets bigger and bigger year-in and year-out translating into a company’s most prized possession; and as they broaden this footprint, hackers will remain resolute in their attempt to breach that data.
Thus, the easiest way to access this sensitive data is through the remote workers operating on weakly-protected home networks. From there, experts foresee the increase in VPN usage as well as additional security measures to protect company data while they work from home.
According to Cisco, since the beginning of the pandemic one of the top policy changes made in organizations has been to increase VPN capacity (59 percent) for remote workers.
7- FinTech under fire
The financial industry is considered one of the most threatened sectors in terms of cybersecurity for obvious reasons. Just take a moment and think back to how many data breaches has happened this year solely on financial institutions.
The reasons behind these breaches are always different, from the rogue employee, to the vigilante hacker, only one person is enough to cause significant damage to a financial corporation’s business.
According to Fortunly, cybersecurity investments in Fintech have grown to $646.2 million in 2020, more than double of what businesses spent on IT in 2019.
Thus, companies need to be wearier regarding their assessment of risks, while putting in place air-tight security reforms that protect not only their business models, but their customers’ sensitive data as well.
Hence, a balanced innovation is needed that promotes the growth of the fintech industry and mitigates the hidden risks of its services.
As the COVID-19 battle seems to be at its end with the creation of several vaccines, the experience of the pandemic should serve as a harsh lesson for decision-makers to make the necessary changes going forward.
Addressing the fear of AI in cybersecurity roles
Fear of automation has been present since the first industrial revolution, and as we slowly edge closer toward entering its fourth iteration, that very same fear has lingered and begun to creep up once more.
Only now it has cozied up to another worthy ally that could unearth age old fears of job loss: artificial intelligence (AI).
With technological advancements making headway every day, it seems there’s an accompanying alarm that keeps ringing; a warning of a future in which robots will be able to do everything humans can, only better, cheaper, and for longer.
A study conducted by Trend Micro, a Japan-based cybersecurity firm, that interviewed 500 UK IT decision-makers found that many IT leaders are concerned that their jobs will be replaced by AI in the next ten years.
The study suggests that there is a strongly held belief that jobs within the cybersecurity space will become obsolete due to automation, with no need for human automation.
“More than two-fifths (41 percent) believe that AI will replace their role by 2030, while merely 9 percent of the survey respondents said they were confident that AI would ‘definitely’ not replace their jobs within the next ten years,” the study noted.
While the study highlighted people’s lingering fear of being replaced by a simple algorithm, this doesn’t seem to be the case on the ground.
Let’s jump right in and bust this myth from the get-go.
While IT leaders seem to be worry about the possibility of losing their profession in the next decade, many have jumped in to turn out the panic alarm.
Even, Trend Micro’s Technical Director, Bharat Mistry, wrote within the study that “we need to be realistic about the future. While AI is a useful tool in helping us to defend against threats, its value can only be harnessed in combination with human expertise.”
He added the people should not be worried about their jobs becoming obsolete, since “AI and automation can help us to alleviate the problems caused by critical skills shortages.”
While proponents of AI and automation view them as the harbingers of a golden age free of paper-pushing, mundane and repetitive tasks, AI will not come after your job.
One of the main reasons why cybersecurity experts need not fret about their job security is simply due to cyber criminals beginning to adopt AI within their arsenal of attacks, transforming the battle ground into an online arms race where businesses and individuals attempt to stay one step ahead of each other.
With that, there needs to be cooperation between humans and their algorithms to fend off bad actors, regardless of how sophisticated their approaches might be.
According to the “2020 SANS Automation and Integration Survey,” cybersecurity teams aren’t going away anytime soon.
“Automation doesn’t appear to negatively affect staffing,” the authors concluded, after surveying more than 200 cybersecurity professionals from companies of all sizes over a wide cross-section of industries.
What they found, in fact, suggested the opposite: Companies with medium or greater levels of automation actually have higher staffing levels than companies with little automation.
While automation could theoretically eliminate almost three million cybersecurity jobs before a single one of them contemplates a career change, one needs to question of AI and automation living up to all its potential.
“As we’ve seen with a number of ‘revolutionary’ cybersecurity technologies, many fall short of the hype, at least in the early days,” says a report by U.S. cybersecurity software company, McAfee.
The task of automation and AI currently enjoy their very own shortcomings; the first being that they cannot deploy themselves, thus, a human touch is required to tailor the solution to the business’ needs and ensure that’s functioning correctly.
Even when they’re put in place correctly, AI and automation cannot be solely reliable on covering an organization’s online security just like that, since without lack of human judgment that filters and investigates every claim, these systems can unearth many false positives.
In terms of false negatives, AI is great at spotting what it’s programmed to spot, thus, making it increasingly unreliable at detecting threats and illicit activities it hasn’t been specifically instructed to look for.
“Machine learning is beginning to overcome this hurdle, but the operative word here is still ‘machine’—when significant threats are surfaced, the AI has no way of knowing what this means for the business it’s working for, as it lacks both the context to fully realize what a threat means to its parent company, and the ability to take into consideration everything a person would,” the McAfee report explained.
Humans will still be needed at the helm to analyze risks and potential breaches, and make intuitive, business-critical decisions.
Also, these automated and AI-driven systems instantly become obsolete once new types of attacks are created and deployed against them, since they cannot evolve without the guiding hands of humans.
In parallel, these automated systems cannot hire and train personnel, select vendors, conduct compliance or perform any creative task set before them.
“No automated system, no matter how sophisticated, is going to know when new laws, company regulations, and rules are passed, and no system will be able to adjust to such changes without human intervention,” the report explained.
It is important to note that hackers and cyber criminals have already demonstrated their ability to hack into automated systems; thus, leaving the algorithm to fend for itself, without a human quickly responding to the threat, sensitive data could be at risk of being breached or stolen.
McAfee’s report highlighted that AI and automation will not obliterate cybersecurity roles but would rather redefine and reshape the uses of those roles in other means.
According to SANS, implementation of effective automation often requires an initial surge in staff to get the kinks worked out—but it is almost invariably accompanied by a redirection, not reduction, of the existing workforce.
With that in mind, we need to stop ringing the panic bell of joblessness whenever emerging technologies start hitting the mainstream. We need to remember that without the guidance and instruction of humans, these technologies will not be able to perform as optimally as they were designed to be.
How con artists scam the elderly in the digital age
Scammers, hackers, and fraudsters have attempted to exploit our lack of knowledge both on and offline. Unfortunately, senior citizens have been on the short end of the stick for a while, making them the most targeted groups among all others.
A report published by Deloitte estimates that scammers steal almost $2.9 billion per year from seniors along. The main reason elders have a huge target painted on their backs is mainly due to being less familiar with technology.
These senior citizens are usually approached in a myriad of ways such via telephone, in person conversations, or online through emails, or various social media platforms.
According to a report by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), senior citizens are particularly vulnerable to certain types of fraud. Scammers prey on the elderly for a variety of reasons.
Let’s jump right in.
Fraudsters target elders for the same reason banks get robbed: that’s where the money is.
Everything from life savings, bank accounts, mortgages, or social security, as most elders tend to own their own homes. According to a 2017 Federal Reserve study, the average net worth for American households headed by someone age 65 and older is $1.067 million — 1.5 times as high as the average for all households.
However, it’s not always well-off elders aren’t always the main prey for scammers. A 2018 Kaiser Family Foundation report calculates that 14 percent of all seniors are living in poverty. Scams that target the elderly take in many people living on fixed incomes who can’t afford the financial loss.
2. Exploiting their trust
Be them rich, poor, or belong to the middle class, its not a secret that senior citizens are lonely and yearn for companionship. The older these senior citizens become, the more likely they’ll be isolated due to their friends and families either dying or move into nursing homes.
This yearn for companionship makes them easy prey for con artists, which gives them an easier way to worm their way into someone’s trust for illicit reasons.
One needs to keep in mind, that the baby boomer generation (or people born in or before the 1960s) are usually more inclined to trust strangers, as their upbringing taught them to be polite, while assuming that others are being honest.
This makes them less willing to interrupt a sales pitch or hang up on a scammer.
According to a 2018 report from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), senior citizens are more likely to report scams than younger people. However, con artists know that even if their elderly victims report the crime, there’s a good chance they won’t remember the details.
This causes problems with local law enforcement, as elders find it difficult to provide detailed descriptions to help track down the perpetrators, especially if a certain time period has passed since the victims were conned.
4. Targeting their needs
The most common scamming tactic is by approaching the victim with something that they need, such as Social Security or healthcare, and fake investments in the hopes of cashing on some retirement money.
With the elderly population growing and seniors racking up more than $3 billion in losses annually, elder fraud is likely to be a growing problem, this has attracted the attention of many law enforcements agencies around the world.
There are several common ways scammers can attempt to fool senior citizens; to combat this ongoing trend, the FBI has named June 15 to be the World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, which is dedicated to raising awareness about the millions of older adults who experience elder abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation.
In parallel, the FBI compiled a list of schemes that the elderly need to keep an eye for to evade being conned.
Let’s jump right in.
- Romance scam: Criminals pose as interested romantic partners on social media or dating websites to capitalize on their elderly victims’ desire to find companions.
- Tech support scam: Criminals pose as technology support representatives and offer to fix non-existent computer issues. The scammers gain remote access to victims’ devices and sensitive information.
- Grandparent scam: Criminals pose as a relative—usually a child or grandchild—claiming to be in immediate financial need.
- Government impersonation scam: Criminals pose as government employees and threaten to arrest or prosecute victims unless they agree to provide funds or other payments.
- Sweepstakes/charity/lottery scam: Criminals claim to work for legitimate charitable organizations to gain victims’ trust. Or they claim their targets have won a foreign lottery or sweepstake, which they can collect for a “fee.”
- Home repair scam: Criminals appear in person and charge homeowners in advance for home improvement services that they never provide.
- TV/radio scam: Criminals target potential victims using illegitimate advertisements about legitimate services, such as reverse mortgages or credit repair.
- Family/caregiver scam: Relatives or acquaintances of the elderly victims take advantage of them or otherwise get their money.
- Bogus Covid-19-related products and services: During the pandemic, con artists have taken advantage of people’s fears of Covid-19 by attempting to sell senior citizens “coronavirus test kits” in an attempt to collect credit card or banking information. While others falsely advertising products, such as fake drugs, vaccines, and devices, that claim to prevent or cure Covid-19.
How to protect yourself
Protecting one’s self from a scam can be easy to debunk, it just needs a little patience and research; thus, according to the FBI here are the most optimal ways of seeing through the lies and deceitfulness of scammers:
- Search online for the contact information (name, email, phone number, addresses) and the proposed offer. Other people have likely posted information online about individuals and businesses trying to run scams.
- Resist the pressure to act quickly. Scammers create a sense of urgency to produce fear and lure victims into immediate action. Call the police immediately if you feel there is a danger to yourself or a loved one.
Be cautious of unsolicited phone calls, mailings, and door-to-door services offers.
- Never give or send any personally identifiable information, money, jewelry, gift cards, checks, or wire information to unverified people or businesses.
- Make sure all computer anti-virus and security software and malware protections are up to date. Use reputable anti-virus software and firewalls.
- Disconnect from the internet and shut down your device if you see a pop-up message or locked screen. Pop-ups are regularly used by perpetrators to spread malicious software. Enable pop-up blockers to avoid accidentally clicking on a pop-up.
- Be careful what you download. Never open an email attachment from someone you don’t know and be wary of email attachments forwarded to you. Take precautions to protect your identity if a criminal gains access to your device or account. Immediately contact your financial institutions to place protections on your accounts and monitor your accounts and personal information for suspicious activity.
The key to unravelling a scam if your loved one has been approached by a con artist is to make them feel comfortable enough to talk about, since most senior citizens feel embarrassed to talk about or report the crime.
Talking about the matter not only helps them understand the matter even more, but also aids local law enforcement to contain any potential damage that may have occurred, or if they’re lucky enough prevent it all together.
As technological advancements keep emerging, hackers, scammers and the like will always find more sophisticated ways of tricking us, which is why we must remain vigilant regarding our online activities, while constantly educating ourselves and our elderly loved ones to evade these malicious online behaviors.
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