Fortinet forecasts threat actors to target edge networks in 2021

From the onset, cybercriminals exploited the COVID-19 pandemic heavily and attacked the most vulnerable network which is the work-from-home environment. That was the story of 2020. Going to 2021, cybersecurity solutions firm Fortinet sees that threat actors will be preying on edge computing.

The rise of intelligent edge computing broadens attack surfaces that threat actors can explore. Remote work replaces the traditional network perimeter with multiple edge environments. With 5G now going commercial and enterprises developing more use cases for the technology, entry points of attacks are also increasing. Expect the proliferation of 5G-enabled devices both for homes and industrial settings.

“With the rise of intelligent edge computing and 5G-enabled devices, we might face a significant shift (in attacks),” said Mark Cayubit, senior systems engineer at Fortinet (Philippines). “There will be advances in computing power as well as the new wave of advanced threats will undoubtedly arise.”

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Fortinet said that to make a successful attack, cybercriminals will be employing Trojans targeting individual computers or devices which would be used as “springboard” to launch a serious and large-scale attack in big organizations.

“Eventually, advanced malware will discover even more valuable data and trends, using what we call EATs (Edge Access Trojans),” Cayubit said. “They can perform basic activities such as intercepting requests or traffic through the local network, so they can also add additional attack commands.”

5G deployments have begun and the Philippines is among the first countries to roll out services for commercial and enterprise use cases. 5G technology promises hyperconnectivity with multiple devices because of its speed and low latency. The devices are the most common and perhaps most vulnerable attack surface.


“By compromising and leveraging 5G-enabled devices they will open up opportunities for advanced threats,” Cayubit said. “In this case, it will be in the form of swarm-based attacks. It requires a large amount of processing power to enable an individual swarm bot. This is quite similar to a botnet, but they are more intelligent and can efficiently share information in a bot swarm.”

These attacks leverage hijacked devices divided into subgroups, each with specialized skills. They target networks or devices as an integrated system and share intelligence in real-time to refine their attack as it is happening. This enables them to rapidly discover, share, and correlate vulnerabilities, and then shift their attack methods to better exploit what they discover.

Social engineering never gets old. It is one of the oldest forms of cybersecurity “hack” that still thrives to this day. With the Internet of Things (IoT), hacked systems could lead to power outages or non-functioning devices. However, Fortinet sees human weakness will still contribute to more attacks in 2021.

Fortinet said that smarter attacks could enable the ransoming and extortion of additional data or stealth credential attacks.

Ransomware will persist, according to the cybersecurity solutions firm. But there will be advancement with cybercriminals will target operational technology (OT) systems, particularly critical infrastructure, and there will be even more data, devices, and unfortunately, lives at risk.


Cryptomining is also seen to be prevalent in 2021 especially if cybercriminals will leverage artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). The compromised edge devices will be a gateway to process a massive amount of data. Fortinet said, infected PCs being hijacked for their compute resources are often identified since the central processing unit (CPU) usage directly impacts the end user’s workstation experience. Compromising secondary devices could be much less noticeable.

Space attacks involve the connectivity of satellite systems and overall telecommunications. As new communication systems scale and begin to rely more on a network of satellite-based systems, cybercriminals could target this convergence and follow in pursuit. As a result, compromising satellite base stations and then spreading that malware through satellite-based networks could give attackers the ability to potentially target millions of connected users at scale or inflict DDoS attacks that could impede vital communications.

Digital acceleration may have enabled businesses to continue but it also opened up a playground for cybercriminals with remote home systems unprotected by corporate security infrastructure. Routers can easily be hacked and cloud-based systems can be penetrated.

Fortinet said the evolution of AI is critical for future defense against evolving attacks. AI will need to evolve to the next generation. This will include leveraging local learning nodes powered by ML as part of an integrated system similar to the human nervous system. AI-enhanced technologies that can see, anticipate, and counter-attacks will need to become reality in the future because cyberattacks of the future will occur in microseconds.

The primary role of humans will be to ensure that security systems have been fed enough intelligence to not only actively counter-attacks but actually anticipate attacks so that they can be avoided.


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