Industry insights

Cybersecurity Predictions For 2021

Pierluigi Paganini
December 29, 2020 by
Pierluigi Paganini

Here we are again for the annual predictions of the trends and events that will impact the cybersecurity landscape in 2021. Let’s try to predict which will be the threats and bad actors that will shape the landscape in the next 12 months. I’ve put together a list of the seven top cybersecurity trends that you should be aware of.

#1 Ransomware attacks on the rise

In the past months we have observed an unprecedented surge of ransomware attacks that hit major businesses and organizations across the world. The number of attacks will continue to increase in 2021, threat actors will use prominent botnets like Trickbot to deliver their ransomware. Security experts will also observe a dramatic increase in the human-operated attacks that see threat actors exploiting known vulnerabilities in targeted systems in order to gain access to the target networks. Once gained access to these network operators will manually deploy the ransomware. School districts and municipalities will be privileged targets of cybercriminal organizations because they have limited resources and poor cyber hygiene.

In the first quarter of 2021, a growing number of organizations will continue to allow their employees to remotely access their resources in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, thus enlarging their surface of attacks.

Most of the human-operated attacks will be targeted, ransomware operators will carefully choose their victims in order to maximize their efforts.

The ransomware-as-a-service model will allow network of affiliates to arrange their own campaign that will hit end-users and SMEs worldwide.

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#2 The return of cyber attacks on cryptocurrency industry

The number of cyber-attacks against organizations and businesses in the cryptocurrency industry will surge again in the first months of 2021 due to a new increase in the value of currencies such as Bitcoin.

Cryptocurrency exchanges and platforms will be targeted by both cybercrime organizations and nation-state actors attempting to monetize their efforts.

If the values of the major cryptocurrencies will increase we will observe new malware specifically designed to steal cryptocurrencies from the wallets of the victims along with new phishing campaigns targeting users of cryptocurrency platforms.

#3 Crimeware-as-a-service even more efficient

In the Crimeware-as-a-Service (CaaS) model cybercriminals offer their advanced tools and services for sale or rent to other less skilled criminals. The CaaS is having a significant effect on the threat landscape because it lowers the bar for inexperienced threat actors to launch sophisticated cyber attacks.

The CaaS model will continue to enable both technically inexperienced criminals and APT groups to rapidly arrange sophisticated attacks. The most profitable services that will be offered using this model in 2021 are ransomware and malware attacks.

CaaS allows Advanced threat actors to rapidly arrange hit-and-run operations and make their attribution difficult. In 2021 major botnet operations, such as Emotet and Trickbot, will continues to infect devices worldwide.

In the next months we will assist to the growth of Remote Access Markets that allow attackers to exchange access credentials to compromised networks and services. These services expose organizations to a broad range of cyber threats, including, malware, ransomware and e-skimming.

#4 Cyberbullying, too many people suffer in the silent

Words can cause more damages than weapons, we cannot underestimate this threat and technology could exacerbate this dangers. Cyberbullying refers to the practice of using technology to harass, or bully, someone else.

The term cyberbullying is as an umbrella for different kinds of online abuse, some of which are rapidly increasing such as doxing, cyberstalking, and revenge porn.

Authorities and media are approaching the problem with increasing interest, but evidently it is not enough.

This criminal practice represents one of the greatest dangers of the Internet, it could have a devastating impact on teenagers.

In the upcoming months, the problem of cyberbullying will impact, most of ever, the online gaming community reaching worrisome level.

#5 State-sponsored hacking, all against all

In 2021, cyber attacks carried out by state-sponsored hackers will cause important damages to the target organizations.

The number of targeted attacks against government organizations and critical infrastructure will increase pushing the states to promote a global dialog to discuss about the risks connected to these campaigns.

The healthcare and the pharmaceutical sector, as well as academic and financial industries will be under attack.

Nation-state actors aim at gathering intelligence on strategic Intellectual Property.

Most of the campaigns that will be uncovered by security firms will be carried out by APT groups linked to Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea. This is just the tip of the iceberg because the level of sophistication of these campaigns will allow them to avoid the detection for long periods with dramatic consequences.

Nation-state actors will be also involved in long-running disinformation campaigns aimed at destabilizing the politics of other states.

#6 IoT industry under attack

The rapid evolution of the internet-of-things (IoT) industry and the implementation of 5G networks will push businesses to become ever more reliant on IoT technology.

The bad news it that a large number of smart devices fails in implementing security by design and most of their instances are poorly configured, exposing the organizations and individuals to the risk of hack.

Threat actors will develop new malware to target IoT devices that could be abused in multi-purposes malicious campaigns. Ransomware operators will also focus their efforts on the development of specific malware variants to target these systems.

IoT ransomware are designed to take over connected systems and force them to work incorrectly (i.e. changing the level of chemical elements in production processes or manipulating the level of medicine in an insulin pump), and forcing victims into paying the ransom in order to restore ordinary operations.

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#7 Data breaches will continue to flood cybercrime underground market

Thousands of data breaches will be disclosed in 2021 by organizations worldwide. As a result, billion stolen records will flood the cybercrime underground market. These data will give to cybercriminals and nation-state actors an immense opportunity, it could be used by attackers to gain access to target organizations and carry out malicious activities. In 2021 security experts will observe the rise of credential-stuffing attacks.

Credential stuffing is a type of attack where stolen account credentials (i.e., lists of usernames or email addresses and the corresponding passwords) obtained from past data breaches are used to access user accounts through large-scale automated login requests. The attackers automate the logins for thousands or millions of previously discovered login credentials using web automation tools available online.

Credential stuffing will continue to be an efficient way to monetize the attacks.

Pierluigi Paganini
Pierluigi Paganini

Pierluigi is member of the ENISA (European Union Agency for Network and Information Security) Threat Landscape Stakeholder Group, member of Cyber G7 Workgroup of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Professor and Director of the Master in Cyber Security at the Link Campus University. He is also a Security Evangelist, Security Analyst and Freelance Writer.

Editor-in-Chief at "Cyber Defense Magazine", Pierluigi is a cyber security expert with over 20 years experience in the field, he is Certified Ethical Hacker at EC Council in London. The passion for writing and a strong belief that security is founded on sharing and awareness led Pierluigi to find the security blog "Security Affairs" recently named a Top National Security Resource for US.

Pierluigi is a member of the "The Hacker News" team and he is a writer for some major publications in the field such as Cyber War Zone, ICTTF, Infosec Island, Infosec Institute, The Hacker News Magazine and for many other Security magazines.