Cybercriminals are preparing to use computing performance innovations to launch new types of attacks.

Derek Manky, Chief Security Strategist & VP Global Threat Intelligence, FortiGuard Labs

December 22, 2020

4 Min Read

The pandemic and the ensuing increase in remote work has given rise to new attack vectors and schemes. One thing 2020 underscored is the opportunistic nature of bad actors. They will grab onto anything they think can help them pull off a cyberattack, even things like phishing campaigns using emails purporting to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — and, more recently, preying on election fears. And what we know is this will continue to evolve moving forward. Bad actors will look for new opportunities, including using many of the innovations in computing performance. 

For instance, connected smart devices using 5G at the network edge contain incredible intelligence and power. If cybercriminals used that intelligence and power for attacks, they could create a new wave of attacks that could severely drain the compute resources of legacy security systems. Unfortunately, other types of attacks are cresting the horizon that will target developments in computing performance and innovation in telecommunications, specifically for cybercriminal gain. These new attack types will enable adversaries to cover new territory and present defenders with the difficult job of getting ahead of the cybercriminal curve well in advance. Three such areas where we expect to see increasing attacks include cryptomining, space, and quantum computing. 

Advanced Cryptomining Will Gain Traction
For the past few years, cryptomining has steadily become a strategy for cybercriminals looking for a safe and reliable way to earn ill-gotten gain. It's a rather complicated process by which someone uses a computer's processing resources to verify blockchain transactions.

If cybercriminals want to scale future attacks using machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities — and they do — processing power is important. Eventually, by compromising edge devices for their processing power, cybercriminals will be able to process massive amounts of data and learn more about how and when edge devices are used. It could also make cryptomining more effective.

When infected PCs are being hijacked for their compute resources, IT security teams can often identify it quickly because CPU usage directly impacts the end user's workstation experience. However, compromising secondary devices would be much less noticeable.

Spreading Attacks From Space
Cybercriminals find enticing targets in the connectivity of satellite systems and telecommunications. As new communication systems scale and begin to rely more on networks of satellite-based systems, cybercriminals could target this convergence.

Consequently, attackers could compromise satellite base stations and then spread that malware through satellite-based networks. This would give attackers the ability to potentially target millions of connected users at scale or inflict distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks that could impede vital communications. The federal government sees this as a credible threat and has started preparing for it, building up cybersecurity personnel and technical capabilities as systems become increasingly vulnerable.

The Quantum Threat
Quantum computing is another upcoming challenge. It could create a new cyber-risk when it eventually becomes capable of challenging the effectiveness of data encryption. The massive compute power of quantum computers could render asymmetric encryption algorithms obsolete. Consequently, organizations will need to shift to quantum-resistant computing algorithms using the principle of crypto agility to protect data integrity.

A viable quantum computer is still a ways off, but no one knows exactly when it will arrive. According to NIST, the first quantum computer that could pose a threat to the algorithms currently used to produce encryption could be built by 2030. Organizations need to start preparing now, because you can be certain that the bad actors aren't waiting. And although the average cybercriminal will not have access to quantum computers, nation-states will. Therefore, the threat could be sooner and more realistic than many perceive.

Prepare for Battle
2020 has been an unprecedented year for cyber threats. We've seen cyber attackers in full force, taking advantage of every opportunity and every attack vector possible. Unfortunately, 2021 shows no signs of slowing down; the types of threats and the types of vulnerabilities will continue to evolve in step with new technologies.

Threat intelligence is central to defending against these threat vectors, providing vital information in real time. Visibility will also be critical, particularly at this time when a significant amount of traffic is encrypted and many users are outside the typical network scenario. Examining encrypted traffic puts an enormous strain on a security device, and not all systems are up for the challenge at speed and scale. You may miss critical threats entering your network if you're not prepared. Another piece of the security armor is automated threat detection so that your team can address attacks immediately, not months later.

Start preparing now for the emerging new attack methods, using the tools and strategies that will empower your team to defeat the negative aspects of innovations in computing performance.

About the Author(s)

Derek Manky

Chief Security Strategist & VP Global Threat Intelligence, FortiGuard Labs

As Chief Security Strategist & VP Global Threat Intelligence at FortiGuard Labs, Derek Manky formulates security strategy with more than 15 years of cybersecurity experience. His ultimate goal is to make a positive impact toward the global war on cybercrime. Manky provides thought leadership to the industry, and has presented research and strategy worldwide at premier security conferences. As a cybersecurity expert, his work has included meetings with leading political figures and key policy stakeholders, including law enforcement, who help define the future of cybersecurity. He is actively involved with several global threat intelligence initiatives, including NATO NICP, Interpol Expert Working Group, the Cyber Threat Alliance (CTA) working committee, and FIRST, all in an effort to shape the future of actionable threat intelligence and proactive security strategy.

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