Our Predictions for the Top Cyber Security Trends in 2016 – Part II

Got your crystal ball handy? Good because we’re delving into Part II of our Predictions for the Top Security Trends to watch for in 2016. One can never really know what a few weeks down the road will bring or even what we’ll have for breakfast tomorrow. But we can look at trends from past weeks and years to understand where things are headed in our quest to make some educated guesses about what the future of cyber security holds.

Mobile Ransomware To say that malware had a field day on mobile this year may just be a bit of an understatement. Some stats from 2015: There were 383 new mobile malware threats created each minute in 2015. According to Gartner, one of the top marketing and advisory firms in the US, 75% of all apps available on all mobile platforms would fail basic security tests. Security firm Lookout found that mobile malware was responsible for 74% of corporate breaches and according to itbusinessedge.com, 97% of apps have access to our private information.

As if mobile wasn’t already a scary place to be, there is likely much more to worry about. 2016 is already being hailed by some experts as the year of mobile ransomware. Ransomware is any kind of malware that allows hackers to access and lock your sensitive information, typically through encryption. In order to decrypt that information, the hackers demand a payment to be paid in untraceable bitcoins. It’s been headed mobiles’ way since Koler and Simplelocker surfaced in 2014. Koler posed as a police notice, claiming that the victim’s files had been encrypted. In reality they weren’t actually encrypted,they had just been blocked. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief as it became widely publicized that all a victim needed to do to get rid of the nasty was reboot in safe mode. Then came Simplelocker, which actually did encrypt files. For real. Since then we have seen lots of different variants and they just get more complicated to crack as time goes. Don’t expect mobile malware to dwindle away any time soon, it’s just too lucrative a draw for the baddies.

Ad-blocking Ad-blocking is one hot topic nowadays. Internet ads have always been an annoying part of the internet landscape. It seems like everywhere you go that same ad for dog food follows you since that time you Googled it a few months ago and sometimes surfing the web is just slightly reminiscent of a disco, flashing lights, bad outfits and all. Ad blockers have been around for some time but were limited in popularity. But then this past September, the iPhone 7 was released and for the first time in iPhone history, users were allowed to block mobile ads.

You might assume that ad-blocking would become the new status quo but there is another side to the story, say website owners and publishers. They counter that ads are the only way they can fund their free content. In order to keep things running without charging for subscription, they need ads to be displayed on their sites. They say that adblockers and their proponents are killing websites in droves and without ads to pump money into the web, innovation and creativity will be dead. Also recently, some websites will no longer allow access if a visitor has their ad blocker enabled.

From a security perspective though, there are many worrying drawbacks to ads, user experience aside. Ads can be a storehouse for malware, spam and other stuff you don’t want on your computer. Remember back to the Pagefair attack on Halloween. Pagefair, an ad distributor that helps ads conform to the standards set by adblockers, was hacked for just over an hour on Oct 31st and distributed malware to hundreds of websites. Then there are the countless examples of mainstream websites like NYT.com and Yahoo.com who’s ads have been hacked at one point or another. In such attacks, a victim gets infected just by visiting a page with infected ads.This is called malvertising and it’s a pretty common kind of malware that can fry your information to an irretrievable crisp.

Either way, both the blockers and the ad-supported websites have some valid points and concerns, and both sides stand to make a lot of money if they emerge victorious and lose just as much if they fail. So expect this battle to stick around in 2016 in a big way.

Cyber-crime-as-a-service Let’s imagine for a moment that you’re a bad guy and you want to hack something or someone. But as despicable as you are, you’re not all that computer savvy. What is a technically-challenged villain to do? Welcome to Cyber-Crime-as-a-Service, or CCaaS. Perhaps not surprisingly, the business of selling hacking tools and code that comes pre-corrupted is booming on the Darkweb. When a hacker doesn’t want to spend time creating malicious code or come up with a cunning phishing email, all he or she needs to do is log on to the Darkweb using an anonymizing service like Tor network, get a double-secret-invitation to a one of the forums and viola, they’ve got all the tools they need to hack innocent victims.

The bundling together of all these services into one neat little package is referred to as an exploit kit (ya know, with which to exploit you). Exploit kits come with pre-written code and instructions, just in case you’re not sure how to operate this thing. Unfortunately in this vision of capitalism gone very wrong, it’s a lucrative deal for both the creators and the buyers of exploit kits – the creator sells his wares and the buyer makes his profit by taking money or information from innocent victims.

In 2015 the Angler Exploit Kit was a particularly powerful and well-known threat, estimated at powering about 23% of malware on the web. Now the bad guys are inserting a bit of a tweak into the Cyber-Crime-as-a-Service set up. They are going straight to their victims and asking to team up. The new Chimera ransomware not only encrypts your PC but also threatens to dump your sensitive information onto the web for all to see if you don’t pay up. And they want you to get in on the action. On the warning detailing how to pay there is a notice that says

“Take advantage of our affiliate program
We offer you 50% of profits!”

Rather than pay the unlock fee, the creators allow enterprising (and equally morally corrupt) victims to become Chimera redistributors. As crazy as it sounds, the inclusion of more people involved in the hack makes it harder to track the creator. Clearly it would be a bad idea to jump on the bandwagon but the point is that criminals are using other like minded baddies to help them spread their wares to a worrying degree and they are becoming more audacious and bold every day. In 2016 criminals will share information and methods in alarming ways and, hey, they might just try to involve you. Just say no, okay?

So there you have it, our top six predictions for trends in cyber security in 2016. We hope you have a strong malware blocker like RCS installed so you never have to meet up with an infected ad, ransomware or a coffee maker that steals your identity but if you do, let’s just say we told you so.

Happy 2016!

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