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In an effort to stay ahead of their victims, hackers are constantly changing their tactics. To a great extent, cybersecurity has turned into a cat-and-mouse game where the good guys are always trying to stay out of the crooks’ way. And just when they think they have it figured out, the crook comes up with a new strategy.
Keeping on top of things is therefore similar to shooting at a moving target as the tricks keep growing in complexity and scale. With this in mind, the best way to avoid falling victim to these tricks is to take a proactive approach. This can be achieved by noting the new trends in hacking and creating defenses ahead of time.
Here are some of the prevailing hacking trends you should be aware of so as to keep up your defenses.
Prevailing hacking trends
A rise in personalized targeted attacks
In the past, hackers would aim for maximum hits with the confidence that at least a few would succeed. But the tide is now shifting, with criminals aiming for maximum accuracy. Instead of focusing on the numbers, they are becoming a bit pickier with their targets.
They now take time to profile individuals, pinpointing precise demographics rather than aiming for the general populace. With this approach, they seem to have realized the profit potential is much higher and is thus worth the effort.
It is also much easier to remain under the radar when they target one large entity or a small group. In the interests of self-preservation, they reduce risks while optimizing potential.
Targeting backend servers instead of PCs and enterprise devices
Another tactic that malicious actors seem to be embracing is compromising servers instead of commonly used devices such as PCs. A majority of cybersecurity strategies revolve around securing devices that are used on a daily basis. Windows PCs and other such devices are constantly in use and have an antivirus installed.
Chances are that a user will notice when their system has a bug or the firewall will prevent an attack. On the other hand, a bug that can directly compromise a backend server could remain in the system for ages without anyone noticing.
Attackers, therefore, focus on trying to access such devices and remaining hidden as they siphon off data. When they succeed with this devious tactic, the rewards are well worth the effort. Instead of encrypting a handful of PCs for pennies, they can rake in maximum profit.
Many companies are willing to pay millions in ransom to have their servers back in working condition. On the other hand, those that refuse to pay up often lose a lot more in cleaning up the mess.
Combined ransomware and APT attacks
Ransomware has been one of the most persistent cybersecurity attacks, and also one of the most successful. In 2017, the trend was said to grow by an astronomical 2,502% according to a Carbon Black report. Given the fact that innumerable organizations keep such attacks under wraps, the actual figure could have been much higher.
In view of its success, it still remains a top trend. But in the recent past, it seems to have taken on a twist by onboarding Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs). Together, they seem unstoppable. APTs work by attempting to breach security defenses countless times, learning from mistakes, and modifying tactics until they find a way in.
What makes the joint attack especially painful is that such attackers no longer quit as expected. They start by encrypting files to get quick ransom money, but they still leave spyware to continue collecting data long after you think they left.
Cybersecurity experts are thus best placed to fight this if they assume that such bugs already exist on their networks. In that case, they would employ a ceaseless threat hunting mission to root them out and identify the weak points.
Will machine learning and AI-based attacks rule the day?
An interesting trend developing in cybersecurity circles is the use of AI and machine learning for security. What makes these approaches more successful than most existing ones is the fact that the models get better with time. They learn from attacks and adapt accordingly. Moreover, they can detect unknown anomalies, making them effective against unknown threats.
Though the technology is currently in the hands of the good guys, it is just a matter of time before the crooks start exploiting it for attacks. At the moment though, this remains in the realm of imagination, where malicious codes would learn how they get detected and keep changing to avoid getting caught.
However, the saving grace for now is that few people have the know-how to work in machine learning and AI. Those that do have found it easier to work with the good guys since demand is still pretty high.
As the number of skilled AI personnel rises, will we see a corresponding rise in machine learning-based cybercrime? Only time will tell.
Dodging the bullets
In view of the changing trends in hacking and cybercrime, more businesses and organizations are implementing solid security practices and strategies. Timing is always one of the single most important factors when it comes to fighting cyber threats.
Awareness of prevailing trends in cybercrime and implementation of proactive security strategies prior to attacks remains one of the best ways to stay ahead of the bad guys. The lesson is simple: hackers will not stop inventing new ways to terrorize. Don’t make it easy for them to get the keys to the kingdom.
Malicious actors are always on the lookout for low-hanging fruit. If you try your best to remain higher up in the security branches, you stand a lower chance of compromise. Admittedly, it’s impossible to predict every possible type of attack.
But by staying abreast of the developments in the arena, there is a better chance of keeping them at bay. With such information, it will be much easier to devise strategies that could prevent any type of attack from having success. The rule will apply no matter the manner in which they deliver the attacks.
Nica is a BA Political Science degree holder who specializes in fintech, SaaS, business and academic writing. She has experience working with founders who graduated from Harvard, tech startups funded by Y-Combinator, CEOs of multi-million dollar blockchain companies, investment companies in London and many more.