7 Emerging cybersecurity threats to watch out for in 2021

Published January 28, 2021   |   

The year 2020 has solidified our reliance on internet technologies. And while the entire world may have come to a standstill due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the world of cybercrime has only discovered new avenues to strengthen its hold. From the Bitcoin outbreak on Twitter to New Zealand’s Stock Exchange (NZX) going offline – we have witnessed some of the most brazen cyber attacks in the year gone by. Cybercriminals are getting braver and more creative in executing their crooked schemes.

Thus, keeping up with the spirit of “prevention is better than cure,” now is a great time to get acquainted with the emerging cybersecurity threats of 2021 so that you can be better-prepared in warding them off.

Here is a list of such potential cybercrimes that one can anticipate in 2021:

1. Ransomware Attacks

Given its profitability, ransomware can easily make a strong comeback in 2021. Ransomware attacks gained prominence in 2017 when WannaCry spread across the globe like wildfire. However, in the present context, the threat of ransomware becomes even more real as they mature with the evolution of technology.

What is worse is that the new generation of ransomware would be more aggressive and sophisticated as they come equipped with the latest technologies, like AI. Such powerful ransomware can seamlessly bypass some of the best malware detection software applications and deny you access to your critical data.

Even a single point of entry could result in widespread network infection and data corruption. One of the best approaches for mitigating the effects of a serious ransomware attack would be to create multiple copies and backup your data to prevent cybercriminals from holding it hostage.

2. DDoS Attacks

A Distributed Denial of Service or DDoS attack involves overloading the server with high volumes of traffic to bring down a business website. Such attacks have become fairly common of late. Sources state that instances of DDoS attacks nearly doubled in Q1 of 2020 alone!

The Cyber Week of 2020 saw 65% more DDoS attacks against customers. And if that was not enough, the year ended with Citrix, the desktop virtualization leader admitting to being hit by a DDoS cyberattack on its ADC (application delivery controller).

Fortunately, most businesses are already aware of the threat posed by DDoS attacks and can safeguard themselves by:

  • Monitoring website traffic.
  • Analyzing DDoS risks and developing mitigation strategies.
  • Practicing cyber hygiene.
  • Implementing a Zero Trust security framework.

3. Fileless Attacks

Fileless attacks are a stealthy way for cybercriminals to execute data breaches. These cyber-threats are precisely what their name indicates – they do not rely on file-based payloads, nor do they create new files. In fact, these attacks make use of existing features present in the victim’s environment.

Typically, a fileless attack starts with a click on a link that redirects to a malicious website. The social engineering trap set up on the website launches the system tools (such as Windows PowerShell) to retrieve and execute malicious payloads directly in the system memory. Resultantly, these attacks generally go undetected.

Some common strategies to prevent fileless attacks include:

  • Avoid clicking on suspicious links.
  • Keep your system up to date.
  • Monitor network traffic.
  • Disable non-essential system tools.

4. Remote and Cloud Attacks

The new wave of digitization in 2020 unlocked remote working and work-from-home opportunities. Companies scrambled to implement cloud technologies or set up collaborative spaces. However, some digital transformations were such knee-jerk reactions that the security aspect was not given enough consideration. Plus, home networks are not as secure as corporate setups, which complicates the matter even further.

As a result, cybercriminals can easily find the weakest point of the network by attacking any employee’s home network. From this point, they can directly attack the cloud infrastructure and cause a data breach.

Fortunately, you can secure your data centers by:

  • Seeking third-party solutions.
  • Having a rigid access control system.
  • Implementing an enterprise-grade or virtual firewall at every node.
  • Introducing biometrics or multi-factor authentication.

5. Zero-Day Exploits

While zero-day exploits first made news in 2014, it has come quite a distance since. The zero-day exploit involves identifying security loopholes or vulnerabilities in software programs and using them to infect the product. Naturally, such an action needs to take place before the developers locate and patch the flaw – hence the name “zero-day.”

While the development flaw is unintended, it is also avoidable to some extent. Let’s look at a few ways to protect yourself and your business from zero-day exploits:

  • Install all security patches and update the software or operating system regularly.
  • Ensure that your device settings are in tune with the software settings.
  • Scan for vulnerabilities through testing and simulation.
  • Have a reactive plan ready.

6. 5G-Enabled Swarm Attacks

The introduction of 5G technology will usher in a new era for both cybersecurity and cybercrime. High-speed network connections will escalate the threat of advanced and high sophisticated swarm-based attacks. Studies indicate that swarm cyberattacks have increased by a whopping 82% already and continue growing steadily.

In such attacks, several devices will get infected at the same time. These devices will then get divided into subgroups, each of which will possess a specialized skill or function. The swarm bot will then attack other networks or devices while sharing information with each other in real-time.

The data exchange and AI capabilities allow the swarm-bots to correlate, discover, and share vulnerabilities and change the attack strategies accordingly.

7. Social Media Spoofing

Apart from the traditional cybersecurity threats, misinformation and spoofing are another major cause of concern. Instances of fake social media accounts facilitating targeted phishing are not unheard of. Now, such miscreants are taking it one step further by perpetuating false information and sharing conspiracy theories. The problem becomes graver with technologies like deepfake (deep learning + fake) taking over.

One can avoid falling victim to such threats by cross-referencing any information from reliable sources and blocking and reporting suspicious accounts.

Parting Thoughts

2020 was only a preview of the threats that we can expect in the forthcoming year. As such, it has become essential for users and companies to remain vigilant regarding their cybersecurity status. To commence this journey, you need to get familiar with possible threats. Once you gain that awareness, you are in a better position to counteract their effects and ensure that you and your business remain untainted by any cybercriminal’s effort!