03:44 PM

Ransomware, Social Scams Lead 2013 SMB Security Fears

Expect the bad guys to spend more time pursuing small and midsize business (SMB) targets on mobile, cloud, and social platforms, Symantec says.

Security vendors such as Symantec and its competitors will pay increasing attention to socially borne threats in hopes of preventing them from reaching end users, Haley said. But that won't eliminate the problem altogether. Such threats exist because they eventually succeed -- there's a sucker born every minute, as the saying goes. Employee education and awareness can help minimize the chance that the sucker works in your office. Haley said criminal attempts to cash in on social network monetization will take familiar forms, such as too-good-to-be-true offers via Web or email. Facebook posts or Twitter messages of the "look at what this girl did on camera" variety should set off alarm bells that something's amiss.

"My friends don't share those videos, so if I see that on their wall I'm not clicking on it because I know they didn't post it," Haley said. "Just using some common sense is going to protect you in a lot of cases."

On a less malicious -- but no less annoying -- front, Haley suspects 2013 will bring a new trove of "madware" to smartphones and tablets. Not to be confused with malware, madware is an invasive, aggressive form of app-delivered advertising, the mobile descendant of adware spam on laptops and desktops. Much as adware was delivered as part of seemingly safe downloads such as a free screensaver, madware comes embedded in mobile apps. Madware typically delivers pop-up alerts, adds icons to the device's screens, or modifies settings.

"As [SMBs] adopt BYOD and they're using phones for work as well as pleasure, you've got a distraction and loss of productivity dealing with the nonsense of these [madware] applications," Haley said. His advice: Know your apps before you download them. Just because it made it past the app store gatekeepers doesn't guarantee it's safe.

In the bigger picture, Haley believes "cyber conflict" will become standard practice around the world. These are the types of national or organizational attacks that cause damage, financial or otherwise, for a wide range of political, military, financial, criminal, or other motives. Look no further than the online spillover from recent fighting in the Gaza Strip. In 2013, Haley suspects more individuals and groups will instigate such attacks simply to rattle a perceived opponent -- the modern equivalent of firing a warning shot across the bow of a ship.

That doesn't mean SMBs will suddenly be under siege from state-sponsored hacks or hacktivist attacks. But they could become susceptible if they're seen as a back-door entrance to a larger target. Examples might include a SMB in the supply chain of a much larger enterprise, or one with significant government contracts.

An interesting note on which to close: Symantec also predicted that cloud outages will significantly increase in 2013, saying things will "get worse before they get better." At first blush, this might sound like some saber-rattling of Symantec's own. The firm made its name with traditional on-premises software. But Symantec has its own stake in the cloud game now, such as Symantec.cloud and Backup Exec.cloud. Haley said the prognostication isn't a doom-and-gloom warning but a recognition that, although cloud applications might already seem business-as-usual to many users, the platforms are still relatively young.

"It's an inevitable kind of growing process of the industry," Haley said.

For the 16th consecutive year, InformationWeek is conducting its U.S. IT Salary Survey. To date, more than 200,000 IT professionals have participated in this survey. Take our InformationWeek 2013 U.S. IT Salary Survey now, and be eligible to win some great prizes. Survey ends Jan. 18.

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