As technology infiltrates deeper into every aspect of business and society, cybersecurity threats continue to evolve at a rapid pace. In 2024, organizations across all industries face an increasingly complex and daunting risk landscape filled with both familiar dangers and new, emerging threats coming from all directions. The studies have indicated that threat actors typically launch 11.5 attacks per minute and there existed about 1.7 new malware samples per minute among these threats.
To effectively manage cyber risks in this environment, security leaders must maintain a proactive mindset and stay keenly aware of key trends shaping the continuously shifting threat landscape. Two areas demanding renewed focus are third party risk management and vendor risk assessments. Here in this blog, we will see the emerging cybersecurity threats and the landscape they thrive upon:
The Growing Danger of Third Party Cyber Risks
With companies relying more heavily than ever on an expansive ecosystem of vendors, partners, contractors, and other external providers, third party cyber risks have increased dramatically over the past few years. According to one estimate, over 80% of data breaches now originate from third parties connected to an organization’s network in some capacity. These third-party vendors frequently have direct access to extremely sensitive systems and data, yet may lack adequate cybersecurity controls and practices themselves.
Several key factors are driving the concerning growth of third party risks across the board. First, companies continue to rapidly adopt cloud computing technology, outsourcing more and more of their essential IT infrastructure, software, and business processes to the cloud. Cloud vendors have naturally become absolutely crucial third parties for cybersecurity.
Second, the Internet of Things (IoT) revolution is connecting more external devices, networks, and objects to core organizational systems than ever before. And third, the shift towards work-from-anywhere remote work models continues to expand the number of remote access points that must be secured against threats.
Unfortunately, many organizations are still taking a reactive or non-strategic stance when it comes to managing third party risks. Rigid vendor contracts and sporadic audits or assessments are no longer enough to provide adequate protection. Both technology partners and non-tech vendors alike, such as HR, marketing, or business services firms, can potentially expose critical systems and data. Organizations truly need to implement proactive, ongoing programs to identify and evaluate all third party risks across the entire vendor ecosystem.
Central to this proactive approach is developing robust third party risk management frameworks, policies, and procedures, coupled with continuous automated assessments of vendor environments.
Growth of State-Sponsored Attacks
One of the most concerning trends is the rise in state-sponsored cyber attacks. While cybercriminals still make up a significant portion of attacks, state-sponsored groups are becoming more common and more sophisticated. These groups often have access to significant resources and their attacks are generally focused on espionage, data theft, or undermining trust in institutions.
Some of the most prolific state-backed groups include APT41 out of China, Sandworm from Russia, and Lazarus Group in North Korea. The capabilities of these groups are quite advanced using tactics like zero-day exploits and supply chain infiltration. Defending against such well-resourced adversaries requires substantial investment and coordination across private companies and government agencies.
Attacks on Cloud Infrastructure
The widespread adoption of cloud computing has introduced new attack surfaces and vulnerabilities that attackers are exploiting. With data and applications moving to the cloud functions, attackers are shifting their focus to finding ways to breach cloud infrastructure and take advantage of misconfigurations.
Some of the most common cloud attack methods include compromising credentials, abusing vulnerabilities in interfaces and APIs, hijacking accounts, and exploiting misconfigured DNS and storage buckets. There has also been an increase in crypto-jacking malware designed to exploit cloud resources for illicit cryptocurrency mining. As more companies shift to the cloud, securing cloud platforms is becoming an increasingly high priority.
Exploitation of AI
Artificial intelligence and machine learning have opened up new opportunities for both defensive and offensive cyber operations. On the defensive side, AI can be used to detect anomalies and identify suspicious activities. But attackers are also taking advantage of AI to automate reconnaissance, research vulnerabilities, and scale attacks. For example, chatbots and generative adversarial networks can manipulate people and systems in order to gain access to networks and data.
AI is also being used for credential stuffing, malware creation, and social engineering. Threat actors are leveraging AI to make successful breaches into Ecommerce hosting platforms for stealing sensitive financial data. As AI capabilities continue to advance, expect to see more sophisticated attacks leveraging these techniques. Organizations will need robust defensive AI capabilities to counter these threats.
The Emergence of Vendor Risk Assessments
Closely related to the above challenges, many forward-thinking cybersecurity teams have recently begun implementing much more formal and rigorous vendor risk management programs to thoroughly evaluate third parties like suppliers, partners, and vendors, intending to illuminate and mitigate hidden external threats before they become full blown crises. Whereas typical vendor audits have often focused primarily on high-level reviews of policies and procedures, these new vendor risk assessments take a far more data-driven approach to identifying potential vulnerabilities.
Modern vendor risk assessments incorporate automated tools and key elements such as:
- Requiring vendors to fill out in-depth security assessment questionnaires covering their technical controls and cybersecurity capabilities.
- Performing analysis of past vendor performance records and any publicly known breach incidents or compliance failures.
- Utilizing scanning tools to identify technical vulnerabilities, mis-configurations, or unpatched software within vendor environments.
- Conducting interviews and evaluations of each vendor’s overall cybersecurity culture and general cyber maturity level.
- Verifying that vendors have all necessary cyber certifications and are abiding by their regulatory or industry compliance obligations.
- Screening vendors for any financial viability issues or weaknesses that could increase cyber risks.
This empowers organizations to create much more complete, holistic vendor cyber risk profiles based on both data and human analysis, which can then inform risk mitigation strategies and actions. Any critical security gaps or deficiencies uncovered can be addressed through additional contractual controls, requiring certain compensating controls to be put in place, or potentially terminating vendor relationships in cases of severe or unresolved cybersecurity failures.
Vendor risk assessment tools and services offered by various companies have emerged in recent years to help meet the rising demand in this area. These solutions provide invaluable cyber risk ratings and continuous monitoring of vendor environments based on cutting edge technological capabilities.
Various other tools can arm enterprises themselves to conduct remote vulnerability scanning and assessments on third parties. Adopting vendor risk assessment platforms and methodologies enables organizations to take a far more proactive, data-driven approach to illuminating and managing their evolving external cyber risk landscapes.
Finally, insider threats remain one of the most prevalent cybersecurity risks. Insiders have authorized access and intimate knowledge that external attackers lack. This enables them to bypass many security controls and exfiltrate data or sabotage systems while evading detection.
Intentional malicious actions by insiders continue to cause substantial damage, but accidental insider threats are even more widespread due to factors like social engineering and poor cyber hygiene. Organizations need robust user monitoring, access controls, and data loss prevention capabilities to detect and mitigate insider threats. Comprehensive security training and culture building are also essential.
Looking Ahead at The Future Cyber Threat Landscape
With third party risks and cyber exposures continuing to proliferate, along with zero day threats and advanced persistent attacks continuing to undermine traditional controls, cybersecurity leaders undoubtedly have no shortage of concerns to keep them up at night looking towards the future. Some especially notable cyber threat developments to keep a close watchful eye on include:
- The continued growth and evolution of ransomware attacks, which will focus more heavily on critical infrastructure sectors. Cyber criminals will utilize more sophisticated tactics like double extortion and other forms of blackmail.
- The rise of deepfake technology allows flawlessly manipulated audio and video to enable new forms of highly effective social engineering scams, digital fraud campaigns, and dangerous disinformation initiatives.
- The emergence of quantum computing on a mass scale and the threats this poses to cracking current encryption standards and undermining cryptography as we know it. Post-quantum encryption will quickly become critically important.
- Increased leveraging of artificial intelligence capabilities by cyber criminals to add automation, speed, scale, and sophistication to attacks through data-driven insights. Defenders must fight fire with fire and harness AI for enhanced threat detection and intelligence.
- New attack surfaces and vulnerabilities are introduced across 5G networks, as the blazing speed and exponential connectivity of 5G also provide expanded potential entry points for cyber criminals if networks are not properly architected and secured.
Cybersecurity teams across every industry must start preparing now to tackle this emerging threat landscape and position themselves to remain resilient. By focusing efforts proactively on high risk areas like third party exposures, while also diligently tracking and planning for other developing cyber threats on the horizon, organizations can take the right steps today to build effective and adaptive cyber defenses for both the short term and long term future ahead.
Although the threats will certainly continue evolving at a rapid pace, the proactive steps taken today provide the foundation for continued vigilance, security, and navigating the uncertainties of tomorrow.