Revisiting the Top Security Threats of 2017

Back in January, we took a look at what were then the leading prospective security threats of 2017. These were:

  • The hyperconnectivity of the Internet of Things (IoT);
  • The role of cybercrime-as-a-service in powering global crime syndicates;
  • The ongoing challenge of meeting regulatory and legal compliance standards; and
  • The rise of attacks aimed at brand reputation.

As we head toward another new year, let’s take a look back to see how these concerns played out in 2017. Some issues from the start of the year remain poised to carry over into 2018, even though they have yet to make a splash with the broader public. Some threats have become growing headaches, while others have exploded into forms we could scarcely have imagined a year ago.

Hyperconnectivity and the Internet of Things

The IoT, along with the sheer extent and variety of our online connections, is a prime candidate for sleeper security threat of the year. The general public shows little overall awareness of the IoT, even as connected consumer devices proliferate. This is likely because, so far, most high-profile IoT security episodes have been centered on everyday communication devices, such as smartphones and traditional computers, as opposed to more exotic gadgets, such as smart thermostats and connected vehicles.

Within the security community, however, the challenge of hyperconnectivity is front and center. It is propelled not just by IoT gadgets, but by the proliferation of new cloud-centric technologies such as containers and microservices, which are changing the way all connected devices interact.

Listen to the podcast: The Evolution of Consumer IoT

Cybercrime-as-a-Service

During the past year, much of the public was introduced to the Dark Web, cybercrime-as-a-service and the entire ecosystem that has emerged to support malicious computing.

A wave of ransomware attacks facilitated by commodified tools brought public attention to this criminal marketplace. Ransomware itself has been around for a while, but as relatively random and isolated incidents. Ransomware on an industrial scale is new — and an indication that distributed systems, networking, cloud resources and other modern concepts are now highly accessible to cybercriminals.

Compliance and the Need for Standards to Combat Security Threats

The rise of industrial-scale cybercrime, supported by the Dark Web, has helped to underline the need for industrial-strength security protections. It has also helped to make the point that compliance is not just a set of hoops that organizations need to jump through, but a basic tool for assessing your security posture.

There are no security magic bullets, and the evolution of highly distributed technologies makes security threats ever more varied and complex. In response, the security community has been evolving best practices for building layered defenses to make life as difficult as possible for attackers. Broadly speaking, it is exactly these best practices that are being expressed in regulatory compliance standards for various industry sectors.

Organizations that regard compliance as a mere drill are not only putting themselves at risk of a regulatory downcheck, but also increasing their risk of attack. The efforts you make toward compliance will repay themselves in improved security.

Social Engineering and the Human Factor

Of all the security challenges that emerged early in the past year, social engineering threats and brand targeting have undergone the most radical transformation.

We did not experience a repetition of the 2014 Sony attack, in which individual organizations were targeted with embarrassing revelations. Instead, we saw brand targeting against major social networks, worldwide organizations and even entire political systems.

We have learned that our social feeds may be laced with content generated not by fellow users, as we had assumed, but by bots deployed by unknown persons or groups for uncertain purposes. Along with these new uncertainties comes a new public uncertainty about the technology industry, especially social technology.

These security threats have made 2017 a very interesting year in the IT space, suggesting that 2018 will be equally fascinating for security experts, enthusiasts and everyday users who will undoubtedly be introduced to new and exciting concepts as the year rolls on.

Register for the webinar: New Discoveries in Cybercrime — 2017 Year in Review

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Rick Robinson is a writer and blogger, with a current 'day job' focus on the tech industry and a particular interest in the interplay of tech-driven factors and business considerations - think of the relationship between virtualization and cloud computing. Rick also blogs at Rocketpunk Manifesto on outer space, possible futures, speculative technology, and speculative literature. He has also had print articles published on aviation and military history.