Georgia Tech Cyber Threats Forecast for 2013: In Two Words - 'Very Active'

By Peter Bernstein November 14, 2012

The annual Georgia Tech Cyber Security Summit is always a great event for catching up on what IT and risk assessment professionals need to be mindful of for protecting their data and the networks that critical information flows over. The event is also where Georgia Tech Information Security Center (GTISC) and the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) release their views on the year ahead in cyber security threats.  

Contained in Georgia Tech Emerging Cyber Threats Report for 2013, the report makes for sobering reading.

As the report highlights, the coming year “will feature new and increasingly sophisticated means to capture and exploit user data, escalating battles over the control of online information and continuous threats to the U.S. supply chain from global sources.” 

According to GTISC, GTRI and the experts cited in the report, specific threats to follow over the coming year include, among others:

  • Cloud-based Botnets – The ability to create vast, virtual computing resources will further convince cyber criminals to look for ways to co-opt cloud-based infrastructure for their own ends. One possible example is for attackers to use stolen credit card information to purchase cloud computing resources and create dangerous clusters of temporary virtual attack systems.
  • Search History Poisoning – Cyber criminals will continue to manipulate search engine algorithms and other automated mechanisms that control what information is presented to Internet users. Moving beyond typical search-engine poisoning, researchers believe that manipulating users’ search histories may be a next step in ways that attackers use legitimate resources for illegitimate gains. 
  • Mobile Browser and Mobile Wallet Vulnerabilities – While only a very small number of U.S. mobile devices show signs of infection, the explosive proliferation of smartphones will continue to tempt attackers in exploiting user and technology-based vulnerabilities, particularly with the browser function and digital wallet apps.
  • Malware Counteroffensive – The developers of malicious software will employ various methods to hinder malware detection, such as hardening their software with techniques similar to those employed in Digital Rights Management (DRM), and exploiting the wealth of new interfaces and novel features on mobile devices.

Specific sections of the report deal with: information manipulation; insecurity of the supply chain; a rethinking of mobile security; the maturity of cloud-based threats; the aforementioned malware counteroffensive; and the all important area of healthcare data security.

“Every year, security researchers and experts see new evolutions in cyber threats to people, businesses and governments,” said Wenke Lee, director of GTISC. “In 2013, we expect the continued movement of business and consumer data onto mobile devices and into the cloud will lure cyber criminals into attacking these relatively secure, but extremely tempting, technology platforms. Along with growing security vulnerabilities within our national supply chain and healthcare industry, the security community must remain proactive, and users must maintain vigilance, over the year ahead.”

"Our adversaries, whether motivated by monetary gain, political/social ideology or otherwise, know no boundaries, making cyber security a global issue,” said Bo Rotoloni, director of GTRI’s Cyber Technology and Information Security Laboratory (CTISL). “Our best defense on the growing cyber warfront is found in cooperative education and awareness, best-of-breed tools and robust policy developed collaboratively by industry, academia and government.”

The reason for the prediction of the coming year being very active and very sophisticated is not surprising. As the report notes between BYOD (and the increased mobility and remote access challenges it is posing) and the move to the cloud, the targets of opportunity for those with malicious intent is expanding exponentially. The authors are also correct in saying: 

“If we are going to prevent motivated adversaries from attaching our systems, stealing our data and harming our critical infrastructure, the broader community of security researchers – including academia, the private sector, and government – must work together to understand emerging threats and to develop proactive security solutions to safeguard the Internet and physical infrastructure that relies on it.”

The report is not meant to be cautionary rather than alarmist. That said, one thing is clear, it is going to be a very volatile year with headlines likely to be made unfortunately in each of the areas described above.

Edited by Braden Becker
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