3 hacking trends that took off in early 2018

June 18, 20184 minute read

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When reflecting on the last few years, you might realize 2017 could very well be dubbed the year of the cyber attack. Some of the most widespread, costly, and creative hacks ever were launched in 2017. It’s no wonder many IT pros sprang into reactive mode, building their security frameworks in response to the hacking trends that emerged.

But there are more proactive ways you can address threats—most notably, by staying on top of new trends and security responses. Let’s explore some of the biggest hacking trends that took off in the first few months of 2018, as well as some of the newest trends for protecting your company.

Trend #1: Hunting down threats

In an ironic twist, many current and former hackers have donned “white hats” to help companies detect vulnerabilities. Many businesses actually pay hackers to penetrate their defenses—as long as they report how they did it. This form of external threat hunting is often known as bug bounty collection. It lets organizations use a hacker’s perspective to discover critical security gaps they need to patch.

Many hackers have turned to bug bounty collection as a lucrative alternative to malicious hacking. In one prominent example, the US government holds a yearly Hack the Pentagon event, where independent hackers are challenged to discover vulnerabilities in the US Department of Defense’s infrastructure.

You can also search for unknown vulnerabilities internally. This strategy, known as threat hunting, usually happens when an abundance of data and alerts throw a team into investigation mode, according to Chris Gerritz, founder of the threat-hunting platform Infocyte. However, this haphazard practice is unsustainable. If you truly want to stay ahead of hacking trends, you’re best served by conducting continuous threat hunting. Continuous threat hunting, especially in combination with bug bounty programs, can ensure no endpoint security vulnerabilities go unnoticed.

Trend #2: Taking advantage of human error and overlooked endpoints

Human error still accounts for most of the root causes of security breaches—perhaps as much as 90 percent. This isn’t a new trend, but malicious hackers are discovering more ways to exploit it in 2018. The more people who interact with internet-connected endpoints, the more strategies hackers will find to take advantage of them. Now that internet-connected devices are everywhere—including places they didn’t use to be, such as in the printer fleet—this danger is growing.

To shore up your endpoint security vulnerabilities, you can take threat hunting one step further by replacing weak endpoints with hardware that guards against vulnerabilities. For example, a printer with early threat detection and automatic self-healing can prevent attacks and reduce the risk of human error.

Trend #3: Firing off ransomware and APTs—at the same time

In one week alone, as many as 27,000 databases were held for ransom. Over the past year, ransomware grew 2,502 percent, according to a report by Carbon Black, a firm that monitors sales of ransomware on the dark web. The Carbon Black report also stated that FBI data showed ransomware revenues exceeding $1 billion in 2016, up from $24 million in 2015. But those figures could be much higher, as many companies keep infections and details of ransomware payments under wraps. Whatever the real numbers are, it’s clear ransomware is one of the most significant hacking trends today.

Meanwhile, advanced persistent threats (APTs) are as dangerous as ever. The hackers behind APTs succeed by researching the employees, practices, and defenses of the organizations they want to attack, according to a report in NetworkWorld. “They may try to breach the defenses hundreds or thousands of times, then learn from their mistakes, modify their behavior, and finally find a way to get in undetected.” Once they’re in, they often remain hidden inside a network, slowly siphoning off data.

Both of these threats are dangerous on their own, but in the past year, hackers have made them even more dangerous by developing a joint ransomware-APT attack. They now have the ability to encrypt your files while also stealing data and can leave behind malware that will continue to spy on you long after the ransomware attack is dealt with.

To combat these types of APTs, security pros should shift their stance to assume APTs are already living in their network. Threat hunting, again, comes into play here: A continuous threat-hunting strategy can not only close off the avenues these advanced attackers use to enter a network but also identify where a hidden threat may have slipped in. These discoveries can tip off security pros as to where they can begin hunting for APTs, helping them detect breaches before they cause too much damage.

These trends only brush the surface of the ongoing developments happening in the hacking world right now. Between more advanced malware and more clever ways of exploiting human error, hackers are getting smarter. But thanks to trends, like threat hunting and bug bounties, as well as smarter endpoints, cybersecurity is keeping pace.

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