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Understanding 2017 Cybersecurity: Social Engineering for Cyberattacks the Theme of 2016

Sue Marquette Poremba

Happy Eclipse Day! My location will only see a 76 percent eclipse – that is, if the skies stay clear. It’s beginning to look a bit cloudy out there right now. Over the past few days, I’ve heard countless news rebroadcasts from 1979 telling us that the “next total eclipse in the United States will be on August 21, 2017.” I feel a little déjà vu from 1979, when I was a teenager and studied the instructions on how to watch the eclipse without damaging my eyes. I also have to admit, I’m a little in awe by the pinpointed prediction of the event 38 years ago.

If only such precise predictions worked in cybersecurity. The best we can do is look at the past to get a better understanding of the future. That’s what Optiv’s Cyber Threat Intelligence Estimate 2017 attempts to do. The study looked at what happened in 2016 and then used that analysis to get a better understanding of what we might see in the coming months.

According to the report, the top recurring concerns in security from 2016 included:

1. Criminals are becoming increasingly specialized in a particular field and commodifying their services.


2. The traditional understanding of threat actors is becoming blurred as actors perform attacks typically associated with other roles.

3. The main driver behind malicious activity remains to be for financial gain.

However, if there was an overarching theme to 2016, the report said it is the facilitation of social action through cyber methods. For that reason, it wasn’t surprising to see that the top tools and techniques used by threat actors involved social engineering. Phishing is a problem for every type of industry vertical; ransomware was most problematic for the financial and health care industries; and targeting third parties as a means of attack were most common in financial, health care, and professional businesses.

What does the report show for the future? I think the final two attack vectors may provide a clue. The past year saw hackers taking advantage of a widening attack surface, thanks to the rise of the IoT. As you probably remember, IoT devices led to one of the largest DDoS attacks we’ve seen. Based on last year, the study predicted that botnets and DDoS attacks involving the IoT will become more commonplace and that IoT security vulnerabilities could lead to other types of attacks like cryptocurrency mining and SPAM email generation.

The other attack vector was a little more surprising and may be the tool we need to keep an eye on. It was cryptography and blockchain technology, which, like IoT attacks, involved manufacturing, health care, tech, media, and telecommunications, and utilities and energy most often. As we move forward, the report said:

Cryptocurrencies will remain a highly volatile currency option when compared to the fluctuations seen in more traditional currencies. Technical hurdles involved with getting and using cryptocurrencies will continue to hamper their mass market acceptance. The success of applications built upon block chain technologies ultimately depend on the rigorous examination of their models. Poorly tested and analyzed applications create new risks.

Unlike an eclipse, we don’t know exactly what’s coming in cybersecurity. But based on the past, we know enough that we can take the precautions to limit any lasting damage.

Sue Marquette Poremba has been writing about network security since 2008. In addition to her coverage of security issues for IT Business Edge, her security articles have been published at various sites such as Forbes, Midsize Insider and Tom's Guide. You can reach Sue via Twitter: @sueporemba


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