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Airbus CyberSecurity has compiled its top cyber security predictions for 2019. These are based on trends identified at its Security Operations Centres in France, UK and Germany as well as geopolitical and social events during 2018...

Critical infrastructure will be disrupted by a major extortion attack

We’ve already seen extortion-driven attacks on infrastructure such as cities and ports, which history suggests will continue and spread to energy and transport infrastructure. With the introduction of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), manufacturing industry will become a new target. Professional cyber crime is increasingly driven by the simple psychology of extortion, while the almost limitless potential targets are simply a means to a financial end. During 2019, one of these attacks will finally hit home somewhere in the world, causing memorable disruption.

“We expect for 2019 IIoT devices will become a major target for cyber attackers, especially in the manufacturing industry. The trend with Industry 4.0 to use IIoT technology for real-time data collection of production processes will generate a benefit but also produce an additional risk due to the still low maturity of the cyber security protection of IIoT devices,” said Airbus CyberSecurity CEO, Markus Braendle.

AI-based malware will ‘escape’ beyond an intended target with devastating consequences

A malware developer applying machine learning (ML) targeting and/or self-propagation could create a malware strain so capable that it might ‘escape’ beyond its intended targets, causing massive collateral damage. The use of AI in such an event will probably increase the fallout beyond that seen with Stuxnet, Mirai and NotPetya. In addition, ML will be used in a real world cyber attack to automate manual hacking techniques usually only associated with APT threats for the first time. Balancing this, security operations centres (SOCs) will start using AI and ML algorithms as a way of plugging the cyber security skills gap. The security analyst role will have to adjust to accommodate these new artificial colleagues.

Regulators will lose patience with cryptocurrencies

Blockchains are a short-term risk because the technology is immature and heavily tied to the fate of cryptocurrencies. This needs to mature if the technology is to succeed in areas such as supply chain security. As cryptocurrencies become mainstream, the worry of attacks on blockchain currency for geo-political gain will rise. For this reason, they will face increased controls to mitigate economic risk as they traded more in conventional markets. More generally, confidence in blockchain will take a knock as worries over security problems with cryptocurrencies increase and with a realisation that blockchain is not a panacea.

Two cyber powers will start negotiations to agree the world’s first cyber security treaty

There is a growing danger that people will get hurt because of a deliberate or inadvertent attack on critical infrastructure such as power stations and hospitals. Ideas to address these dangers have included Microsoft’s suggestion of a digital Geneva Convention with an independent NGO, the Global Cyber Attribution Consortium, to monitor compliance. Although this and other UN initiatives could take years to come to fruition, the balance of risks v rewards are steadily tipping towards a system of rules for at least some nations, especially if this had geo-political advantages mirrored in other economic and military ties. A formal cyber security treaty of this kind would rest as much on its political and symbolic capital as its technical detail.

“States needs to advocate the need for cyber cooperation instead of cyber warfare. Indeed, states have an obligation to work towards such as treaty to make this happen to prevent harmful cyber attack. 2019 could be the year for such an agreement for neighbouring countries,” said Airbus CyberSecurity CEO, Markus Braendle.

A government somewhere will ban public-sector ransomware payments

It has become commonplace for public sector organizations to make ransom payments when critical systems are hijacked by extortion attackers. This has always been controversial and the rules governing its legality is complex even in developed legal systems. Now, the price of this short-termism is starting to dawn on governments. Payment risks financing new attacks, offers no guarantee against repeat episodes, while the ransom sums themselves have increased tenfold. Attackers are also moving towards ransoming critical infrastructure, a dangerous development. Banning ransom payments might deter extortion attacks and encourage investment in the sort of security designed to avoid them happening.

“With the ransom sums being demanded rising dramatically in 2018, a growing number of organizations have been paying up. This isn’t sustainable, especially in the public sector – eventually voters’ patience might snap,” said Airbus CyberSecurity CEO, Markus Braendle.

Airbus CyberSecurity’s recommendations for actions in 2019:

  • IT and OT cyber security must be assessed at the board level and managed as part of an organization’s corporate risk management.
  • Too many organizations get distracted by shiny boxes - businesses must always find a balance between spending on response and training as well as detection.
  • If you want to be successful, you need to build multi-skilled teams able to collaborate internally as well as externally. No single department or organization can do this alone.

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