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Address the red flags of cybersecurity before raising the white flag

Tom McVey, Solution Architect, Menlo Security, explains why government and defence organisations must look to build security resilience in 2021 

In a year heavily influenced by the global crisis, the security risks faced by government and defence organisations are greater than ever, with cyber criminals exploiting ‘pandemic fear’ to launch more and more sophisticated attacks.

As critical infrastructure systems migrate online, with increased use of SaaS and cloud services, they become the target for attack. Phishing attacks and data breaches involving sensitive information are all too frequent, while state-sanctioned attacks are creating headlines around the world.

In the US, the full impact of the cyber attacks on a number of government agencies is still being felt. The large-scale hack, which also struck numerous companies, is widely attributed to Russian state actors. President Joe Biden has stated that, “a good defense isn’t enough” and the need to “disrupt and deter our adversaries from undertaking significant cyber attacks in the first place”.

Closer to home, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) last year issued guidance to healthcare organisations about the risk of COVID-related attacks. At the same time, Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, condemned cyber criminals using the global crisis as an opportunity to carry out malicious attacks that target, “those working to overcome the coronavirus pandemic around the world, from experts working on the global health response to hospitals and healthcare systems”.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel, warned of possible attacks – both cyber and physical – on vaccination centres, transportation companies and vaccine producers.

Despite the many challenges that government organisations are facing right now, they must remain defiant in the face of attack and take an uncompromising approach to security resilience. It’s not the time to raise the white flag of surrender.

Today’s cybersecurity threats highlight the limitations of maintaining the status quo and the importance of identifying the ‘red flags’ of risk, including:

  1. An increase in phishing attacks, driven by the trend for working from home. At Menlo, we are predicting a new form of attack, known as ‘zishing’ or Zoom + phishing, due to a rise in the number of Zoom meetings.
  1. Ransomware is not a new form of attack by any means, but we fully expect cyber criminals to move from data ransom to more system ransom attacks.
  1. Business Email Compromise (BEC) attacks that use email fraud to target organisations, typically with subject lines like ‘Response’, ‘Request’, ‘Urgent Reply’ and ‘Hello’. In some cases the subject line includes the name of the recipient, clearly a targeted threat, asking them to approve financial transactions or payments. We predict a rise in BEC mobile attacks, while caller-ID spoofing will become part of the BEC attack.
  1. Command and Control attacks can be used to compromise an entire network, providing attackers with access to confidential and highly sensitive data or an entry point for a denial of service attack. We predict an increase in the use of HTTPS to communicate to the Command centre, although such attacks will become less relevant for data theft as data continues to move to the cloud.

This year will be another difficult year as organisations look to maintain business operations in uncertain times. A ‘no white flags’ strategy means taking practical approaches to managing cyber risk, combined with creating a culture of collaboration, innovation and prioritisation.

To find out more about this topic, register here for Menlo Security’s Building Cybersecurity Resilience in 2021 webinar on 23 February 2021 (15:00-16:15 GMT).

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