The year 2016 took cyberattacks to an unprecedented level; there were reports of it being used to influence and sway votes in democratic elections. In Nigeria, several organizations suffered cyberattacks, some had to pay ransom for their data to be released. The federal government also estimated the annual cost of cybercrime in Nigeria to be about 0.08% of the country’s Gross Domestic Products (GDP), which represents about ₦127 billion. Also, as predicted in our annual cyber security forecast, 2016 saw a rise in the number of sophisticated phishing attacks; these occurred on multiple Nigerian financial institutions and utility companies. We also noticed an increased interest in cyber security hacking competitions and also efforts by the regulatory bodies in setting up committees responsible for implementing and monitoring the cybercrime act.
Transitioning from 2016 to 2017, the journey of attaining a secure cyber ecosystem is a long but optimistic one. Cyberattacks would continue to grow and only the informed and prepared would survive with minimal losses. In 2017, cyber threats and countermeasures are likely to take the following dimensions:
Rise and fall of cyber Ponzi schemes
With the recession in 2016 came several schemes that promised unbelievable financial returns on investment. These schemes generate returns for older investors by acquiring new investors or from re-investors. Such schemes rely on a constant flow of new investments to continue. When this flow runs out, the scheme falls apart. The end game is eventually that there will not be enough money to go around, and the schemes unravel.
A key characteristic of these schemes is that they are not regulated; if something goes wrong, no one is accountable. In 2017, there would be a continuous rise in these cyber ponzi schemes as the economic recession looms. As these schemes evolve and begin to use cryptocurrencies such as bitcoins that are not yet regulated or where identities are not traceable, the schemes will become more fraudulent and people would lose their money.
One major reason why these schemes thrive is that it works the first time, thereby encouraging the investor to try again. Another reason is because of personal relationship referrals – “it is working”. Some of these schemes are actually used as bait to advance other types of attacks. The schemes leverage social engineering techniques to obtain confidential data such as bank details of the victims. Some of the schemes require victims to visit infected websites that can compromise the individual’s computer. As a result, systems could be attacked with malware which could affect the user or organization’s data. Cyber ponzi schemes are addictive in nature as it feeds on greed and usually does not stop until the user gets seriously hurt. If you really wish to invest, consider doing so with licensed investment organisations.
Ransomware will continue to evolve
Ransomware has been around for a few years and has become one of the most feared and destructive online threats. Ransomware could also be viewed as “cyber-kidnapping”. In this case, data is kidnapped and not people and a ransom is expected to be paid for the affected data to be made available. Several organizations in Nigeria suffered ransomware attacks in 2016 and this trend is expected to continue. The effect of these attacks included loss of critical information and operational downtime which resulted in financial losses. Ransomware will get better at being more stealth, evasive and destructive. We are likely to see built-in advanced anti-virus evading features and ability to rapidly spread across networks before detection. Network administrators will continue to face such ransom scenarios and it is more likely that organisations especially fast growing SME’s will be targeted. The good news is that prevention is possible if individuals and organizations follow some basic cyber security practices.
Regulatory interest in cryptocurrencies
Bitcoin is an emerging cryptocurrency that has continuously gained eminence in recent time. They are generated through a process called mining and are stored in a digital wallet, the wallets contain a public key that is used to receive bitcoins (similar to a bank account number) and a private key that is used to verify that you own the coins you are trying to spend. A Bitcoin Exchange just like the Nigerian Stock Exchange allows buying or selling using different currencies and it can be exchanged anonymously.
Bitcoin is relatively new, hence, there are currently no local laws regulating the use of cryptocurrencies. This has proven to be a contentious issue for regulators and law enforcers. The anonymous nature of Bitcoins which creates a secure mind-set, makes it a potential instrument for money launderers and cyber criminals. Though the Bitcoin protocol might be secure, it does not necessarily extend to the wallets or the exchange platform. There have been reports of stolen wallets and illegal bitcoin exchanges.
The future of bitcoin is uncertain, as it is still an unregulated currency, but that may soon begin to change. In Nigeria, the regulators have set up a committee to take a look at bitcoin and we expect a preliminary position to be communicated with a view to setting up a proper framework for regulating cryptocurrency.
Increase in cloud based attacks
Cloud computing has evolved from many different technologies and more organizations are migrating their infrastructures, platforms or software to the Cloud. This has led to a prevalence in cloud email providers, data collocation centres and so on.
Just like every new technology breeds several security challenges, as these cloud services begin to converge and Cloud Service Providers (CSPs) start hosting the data for several organizations, attackers would shift their focus from individual organizations to the cloud service providers. This puts a huge burden on organizations as there would be difficulty in monitoring an organizations perimeter as their security administrators may have limited control over issues from the cloud.
In essence, as organizations move to the cloud, their investments in security including tools and processes that cover their on-premise devices would need to be re-evaluated for the cloud while considering the value that CSPs have to offer in terms of security and the additional controls that need to be in place.
Cyber intelligence as a service
Disturbing trends such as commercialization of malicious software (malware kits) is transforming the cyber security landscape. There has never been a time where launching a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack was as easy as it was in 2016. A DDoS attack is an attempt to make an online service unavailable by overwhelming it with traffic from multiple sources. The norm in security has been investing in the best available firewalls and anti-malware technology which remains a foundational element of any security architecture. With the overwhelming traffic generated by DDoS, such tools are no longer a viable option as they are more reactive in their approach as opposed to being proactive in dealing with such attacks.
The year 2017 will see the increased use of analytics and threat intelligence techniques and solutions to proactively disrupt future cyberattacks. For such solutions to be effective, a 24×7 intelligence information gathering and monitoring process will be required. An intelligence early warning system empowered by machine learning and other advanced use of analytics will be sought-after. The parsing of various data feeds about cyber activity will be analysed and actionable intelligence information from several sources will form the basis against potential threats and impending attacks. The adoption of the outsourced cyber intelligence service will grow in 2017 as organizations that lack the required skilled resources and seek to cut cost of setting up the infrastructure will choose to outsource such services.
Rise in IoT (Internet of Things) compromises
According to the World Economic Forum, “Hacking the location data on a car is merely an invasion of privacy, whereas hacking the control system of a car would be a threat to a life.” Such scenarios are likely to become more real and not tricks you would see in a movie as more devices get connected to the Internet. The technology that connects all of these physical devices is known as the Internet of Things (IoT). IoT is currently being deployed in a widespread manner and Nigeria is not left out. The use of IoT devices is set to grow in 2017 in Nigeria as individuals and organizations begin to acquire such devices. Devices such as Smart TVs, Apple watches, Android wears are already widespread and we expect more IoT devices especially ones for use in homes and offices.
As there is a distinct lack of experience in maintaining the environment and ensuring security checks on the IoT devices, there would likely be compromises if careful attention is not given to these devices. The main challenge is that security is often overlooked and not considered in many product designs. IoT products are often sold with old and unpatched operating systems and software. Furthermore, consumers fail to change the default passwords or configuration on such devices. In 2017, in order to stay safe and reduce the rate of IoT compromises, individuals have to employ security measures such as immediately updating the device firmware and changing passwords. Organizations on the other hand need to gain a comprehensive understanding of IoT devices related to their business processes, operational support and the technology stack that is required before purchasing such devices.
Cyber security strategy and awareness
In the New Year, as organizations increasingly link their operational processes to their cyber infrastructure and adopt new technologies such as cloud computing, IoT etc. effective cyber security management and awareness would be key to an organisation’s ability to protect its assets, reputation, intellectual property, staff and customers. This trend of cyber security management and awareness will continue in 2017 as organizations aim to attain their goals and offer excellent services to customers. Many organizations have begun to see that their investment in sophisticated technical solutions does not fully translate to adequate protection from cyberattacks. Organizations would gradually return to the basics which many do not consider important because they had always focused on deploying security tools. This is particularly important as majority of the breaches that occurred in the last 3 years have focused on exploiting the people side of the cyber ecosystem. This would lead the drive for increase in awareness and development of cyber security strategy, a service which was rarely included in budgets. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has also requested that financial institutions submit their cyber security framework to be reviewed for maturity and compliance. We expect more business leaders to see the need for a Cyber Security Strategy which entails an integrated approach to security tailored to their particular business and risk profile. Such strategies will address not only the technical aspects of their defence, but also the people and organisational elements.
As always, I wish you a cyber-secure 2017