2021 ratchets up cyber-security threats to American individuals and businesses

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) underwent a major change at the top of its hierarchy in the aftermath of the 2020 election, as Director Christopher Krebs was fired as a result of his beliefs regarding election security.

As the calendar turns to 2021, the media are finally reporting what many security experts have known for far too long: that America is under constant attack in an international cyber-war involving countries like China, Iran, Russia, and North Korea.

At this time, it is imperative that America steers its focus toward protecting critical infrastructure as tensions continue to escalate with China in particular.  In addition, the vulnerability of computer systems managed by small businesses and individuals is at an all-time high.  With the persistent COVID-19 pandemic, many small businesses and remote employees continue to encounter added risks with a large number of the American workforce shifting to the cyber-sphere.

With fewer resources and lost revenue forcing the attention of most businesses on keeping their operations afloat, cyber-criminals are projected to have their most profitable year ever.  With that in mind, here are some of the most dangerous cyber-threats to look out for in 2021:

  • Internal Business Compromises: With telecommuting being the norm during the COVID-19 pandemic, some dishonest employees may see the opportunity to make money from company data that are now accessible minus the usual supervision.  Prior to the coronavirus, the 2020 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report had already pointed out a new trend of insider compromises that make up close to 30 percent of data-related breaches.
  • Phishing: Email or spear-phishing has long been the most frequently used method of gaining entry into a network during a cyber-attack.  Companies exchange hundreds of emails and other electronic messages every day.  Attackers are known to choose the late afternoon, when workers tend to tire and are less sharp, to deliver bait emails loaded with malware.  Just one click on a compromised email can give hackers unfettered access to an entire network.
  • Browser Hijackers: Browser hijackers modify browser settings and redirect traffic to partner sites in order to generate ad revenue for attackers.  This causes a change to a victims' browser homepage and default search engine, as it is replaced with an illegitimate version of a reputable online search provider.  The phony search engine can also insert unwanted banners and advertisements onto of legitimate websites.  Some examples of this scam are the Yahoo Search Redirect Virus and the Google Redirect Virus.
  • APTs: Advanced Persistent Threats (APT) have been talked up quite a bit in the aftermath of the SolarWinds hacking attack.  They use stealthy and persistent hacking techniques to compromise a network and remain inside for long periods.  These attacks require a lot of effort and are mostly aimed at high-value targets like major corporations and governmental entities; however, individuals and smaller businesses that are connected to larger entities have seen a rise in attacks, perhaps as a stepping stone to their larger counterparts.  Some of the more infamous APT groups are APT38 (Lazarus Group), APT35 (Charming Kitten), APT37 (Ricochet Chollima), and the well known group APT29 (Cozy Bear).
  • Ransomware: COVID-19 contributed to the year 2020 seeing a rise in ransomware attacks.  Cyber-insurance provider Coalition reported that ransomware attacks accounted for 41% of all cyber-insurance claims submitted in the first two quarters of 2020.  Additionally, the 2020 CrowdStrike Global Security Attitude Survey reported that that 27% of ransomware victims paid ransom to hackers in the previous year.  Some of the more active strains of ransomware include the Sodinokibi and Lucky ransomware variants.
  • Social Engineering: Social engineering attacks, which are a form of psychological manipulation, trick people into divulging confidential information.  Attackers use this method to procure login credentials and then access a network.  Most companies tend to store employee and customer data, financial information, or other data including Social Security numbers on their networks.

Twenty twenty-one is shaping up to be a landmark year for cyber-attacks.  Recent history points to hackers leveraging global events, and with the increased exploitation of lax security protocol from both businesses and individuals, now, more than ever, investment in cyber-security is paramount.

Julio Rivera is a business and political strategist, the editorial director for Reactionary Times, and a political commentator and columnist.  His writing, which is focused on cyber-security and politics, has been published by websites including Newsmax, Townhall, American Thinker, and BizPacReview.

Image via Pixnio.

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