Cyber attacks are relatively new problems, yet they have quickly gained the status of being as hazardous as terrorism. The Stuxnet Worm, which caused widespread damage to Iran’s centrifuge capabilities in 2010, may have made the world aware of the risk and threat presented by cyber weapons. Two years later, in 2012, a bank of Saudi Aramco Oil Company computers was apparently targeted by Iranian operators, who used malware to delete data from 30,000 systems. A few weeks later, Iran was suspected of being behind another targeted attack on the Qatari natural gas business, RasGas. The series of events seems to have prompted then-US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to issue a warning that the world needed to prepare for a “cyber Pearl Harbor,” signalling a new age of possible vulnerabilities.
In the decade that followed, the West appeared to lose its way in dealing with the rising cyber threat, while preparing for a “possible Pearl Harbor” type of attack, including exploring methods and means to counterattack in the case of such strikes. Despite a rise in cyber threats, the technique of reaction did not alter in the following years. In terms of cyber assaults, the years 2020 and 2021 have proven to be particularly tough, although no changes in tactics have been seen. SolarWinds and Colonial Pipeline in the United States were the cyber attacks that drew the most attention in 2021, yet they were just the tip of a much larger iceberg amid the spate of attacks that afflicted the planet. The cost of cyber attacks to the world in 2021 is still being calculated, but if the cost of cybercrimes in 2020 (estimated to be more than $1 trillion) is any indication, it will likely be between $3 trillion and $4 trillion. What is no longer debatable is that cybercrime damage expenses will soon, if not already, be more profitable than the worldwide trade in all major illicit narcotics combined.
Sectors that are at risk
As the year 2022 starts, the broad belief is that the cyber threat will be one of the major concerns for both businesses and governments throughout the world. Data is gold in the Information Age. Apart from catastrophic IT disruptions, credential risks and the potential for data breaches, phishing, and ransomware attacks are predicted to be among the top worries. The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as other natural calamities, are likely to be substantially greater. A little-known reality is that small and medium-sized enterprises are the targets of the great majority of cyber assaults, and this trend is expected to continue.
Analysts predict that health care, education and research, communications, and the government will be among the most targeted industries in the coming years. Although healthcare ransomware has received little attention, the truth is that ransomware attacks have resulted in lengthier hospital stays as well as delays in operations and testing, leading to an increase in patient mortality.
The fact that no organisation can claim to be totally immune from cyber attacks goes well beyond just allocating expenses associated with cybercrime. While proactive and reactive cyber security methods are necessary to manage cyber risks, they are proving difficult to come by in an increasingly hyper-connected world. Understanding the ramifications of this truth might be disastrous.
For example, despite all of the discussion about data management and protection, the truth is that ransomware is intensifying and threatening to become a near-destructive threat due to the abundance of soft targets. Statistics in this respect are also instructive, namely, those new attacks occur every 10 seconds. Aside from data loss, it is becoming clear that ransomware perpetrators are growing more skilled, and that they are employing ransomware to harm huge corporations and even governments. The rise of “Ransomware as a Service” (RaaS)—a business model for ransomware creators—isn’t just a speculative concern.
Working from home has a significant security effect, which is mostly governed by the current new coronavirus pandemic, and is anticipated to increase the speed of cyber attacks. A surge of attacks on home computers and networks is probably probable, according to a cautious assessment. Experts also believe that a recent trend of putting everything on the cloud might backfire, resulting in many security gaps, problems, misconfigurations, and disruptions. Furthermore, experts predict that Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) assaults will rise as identity and multifactor authentication (MFA) take centre stage, with criminal networks working overtime and the Dark Web-enabling criminals to access even critical business networks.
A lack of clarity
Unfortunately, despite the abundance of information, cyber security professionals seem to be at a loss for suitable answers to the ever-increasing cyber danger. There’s a lot of chatter among cyber security professionals about developing cyber security technologies and protocols aimed at protecting systems, networks, and devices, but it’s unclear if what’s available can defend systems, networks, and devices against all types of cyber assaults. Meanwhile, IT gurus are having a field day, recommending that every company use SASE (Secure Access Service Edge) to lessen the danger of cyber attacks. Additional solutions, such as CASB (Cloud Access Security Broker) and SWG (Secure Web Gateway), are being offered to reduce the risk of web-based attacks on users. The use of the Zero Trust Model and Micro-Segmentation as a strategy of minimising cyber threats might become self-limiting. Although Zero Trust emphasises tight identity verification by “enabling only authorised and authenticated users to access data apps,” it’s unclear how effective this and other applications will be in the face of the current surge of cyberattacks. What is most required is a reminder that cyber security professionals should strive to stay two steps ahead of cyber criminals. As of now, this isn’t clear.
The fact that cyber technology poses specific issues and needs tailored solutions is absent from the canvas. Instead of seeking to develop standard techniques and establish international rules that regulate their usage, the West’s misguided endeavour to prepare for a “possible Pearl Harbor-style attack” has allowed cyber criminals to get the upper hand. While the West concentrated on “militarizing” the cyber threat and figuring out how to best win with its superior capabilities, time was squandered. It resulted in erroneous generalisations and misdirected assumptions, culminating in a decade of missed opportunities.
This problem must be rectified. It is evident that a thorough examination of the sequence of low-and medium-level aggressive cyber attacks that have happened over the last decade is required. It might strengthen the notion that when it comes to cyber deterrence, a piece of the “grand plan” isn’t required: low- and medium-tech, low- and medium-risk focused operations can be just as effective. A similar issue is preventing individual businesses from exploring their own decisions between investing in security and maximising short-term earnings. What many businesses and even governments fail to realise, as the SolarWinds attack demonstrated, is that insufficient corporate security and defence may result in significant external consequences for national security.
Plans for defence and backup
Rather than waiting for the “Big Bang cyber attack,” nations and organisations should actively prepare for a wave of cyber attacks—effectively ransomware—aimed primarily at accessible data. The focus should be on prioritising data protection above everything else. As a result, law enforcement agencies will need to play a critical role in ensuring efficient cyber defence.
From a strategic standpoint, understanding the nature of cyber space is critical. While the technological side is “one element of the answer,” networks and data structures must also prioritise resilience via “decentralised and dense networks, hybrid cloud architectures, redundant apps, and backup procedures.” This entails ‘planning and training for network failures so that people can adjust and continue to provide service even if the network is down.
The short answer is to prioritise establishing trust in systems—whether they are electrical grids, banks, or other similar systems—and developing backup plans that include “strategic decisions about what should be online or digital and what needs to remain analogue or physical, as well as building capacity within networks to survive” even if one node is attacked. Failure to establish resilience — both on a technological and human level — would mean that the cycle of cyber attacks and the mistrust they generate will continue to endanger democratic society’s underpinnings. In today’s world, it’s vital to avoid a loss of trust.