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Kaspersky forecasts exploits in elections, healthcare, 5G deployment this year

Global cybersecurity firm Kaspersky sees that the growth in digitalization among organizations will further open up more vulnerabilities for cybercriminals to exploit. As more companies across industries realize the need to adapt to a digital platform, cybersecurity issues that dominated last year’s threat landscape will continue, or even intensified, this year.

Cybercriminals exploited the fear and mystery of COVID-19 and used it massively in record-number phishing attacks.

“We do not see anything changing so soon. People in our region will remain social and will always look for ways to be productive using technology,” said Yeo Siang Tiong, general manager for Southeast Asia at Kaspersky. “In the business world, we see that remote work will be practiced in most sectors even after the pandemic subsides. Now is the time to reflect on the lessons of 2020 and we recommend companies start creating a security strategy if there’s none, or revising the existing one to effectively adapt to the changing environment and protect the workforce.”

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Security experts from Kaspersky’s Global Research and Analysis Team (GReAT) shared insights on key technologies that cybercriminals see as a potential gold mine for their illegal activities.

Digitalization and Cloud Security

The joke that the pandemic is the main factor for digitalization can never be more true. Large enterprises and small businesses found themselves leveraging cloud, digital payments, and other services to continue their businesses. In short, there will be more people doing digital transactions — payments or communications — in the coming days.

This is where Kaspersky believes cybercriminals will exploit.

“There were ample lures going around with a COVID-19 theme this year, and as the availability of vaccines draws closer, we might see similar lures incorporating vaccination themes as well,” the cybersecurity firm said. “Similarly, perimeter security is going to be one significant area of concern throughout 2021 as people continue to work from home, connecting to their corporate networks via virtual private networks (VPN).

The increased focus on remote working, dependence on the cloud, and reliance on VPNs opens up another potential attack vector: the harvesting of user credentials through real-world social engineering approaches such as voice phishing or “vishing” to obtain access to corporate VPNs. Another possibility is for attackers to accomplish their espionage goals without deploying malware in the victim’s environment.

Elections

The Philippines will be holding its presidential elections next year. Malaysia declared that it will conduct reelections once the pandemic is over. Vietnam is also planning to conduct its general elections in 2021.

This is a good opportunity not only for cybercriminals but for scheming political strategists to sow disinformation. Social media has become a breeding ground to spread fake news using either paid trolls or bots. Kaspersky said it sees that the digital platform will be used extensively to advance their agenda. Due to an increased user base for social media and mobile devices, such campaigns are likely to see a much larger effect on opinions than was ever seen previously.

“Indonesia had its general elections in 2019, and just this year we saw a breach where the private information of voters was leaked online by a group of hackers,” Kaspersky said. “Just as some of these other countries are gearing up to collect updated information on voters during their upcoming elections, it is certainly not far-fetched that similar intrusion attempts might be made here as well.”

5G Rollout

The widespread adoption of 5G means more connected devices not only in the consumer sector but in the enterprise and industrial sectors as well.

“The way 5G has been designed is such that more of its operational functionality has been switched to software rather than hardware,” Kaspersky said. “This opens up various avenues for potential attack surfaces (the number of possible vulnerable points in a computer system where an attacker can get through), as generally software is considered more accessible and arguably easier to discover vulnerabilities for. It may only be a matter of time when researchers start to find potential software-based flaws, and threat actors will definitely not be much behind, if not ahead.”

Health Sector

The world is focused on the health care sector, not only on patient data but also on a ginormous amount of information in the various stages of vaccine development.

In previous forecasts, Kaspersky experts have projected an increase in attacks on medical equipment in countries where digital transformation in healthcare is burgeoning. In 2020, interest in medical research surged among cybercriminals specializing in targeted attacks, spurred by the development of the much anticipated COVID-19 vaccine and its potential significance for the global community.

According to Kaspersky researchers, this trend will continue through 2021. The new year may also see more attack attempts targeted toward this sector as new regulatory restrictions, new treatments, and an increase in the number of potential victims continue to attract attention.

Ransomware

Kaspersky has been observing a reduction in ransomware attacks across the region recently. However, the cybersecurity company has been noticing ransomware threats becoming more dangerous, sophisticated, and targeted. The amount of money being demanded by ransomware groups has increased significantly.

“While the ransom amounts being demanded are likely to continue to increase, we expect to see an increase in ransomware attacks, due to the sheer number of increased potential targets across the region and thus a reversal of the current trend in 2021,” Kaspersky said.

Industrial Control Systems (ICS)

According to Kaspersky, Southeast Asia has been one of the worst-hit regions in terms of ICS attacks as per several ratings.

“We are, however, seeing more focus from governments to curb such events,” Kaspersky said.

Malaysia has dedicated RM1.8 billion for its national cybersecurity strategy 2020-2024. Indonesia’s National Cyber Encryption Agency (BSSN) also seems to be actively improving its cyber resilience strategy by partnerships with countries such as Australia since last year. The Philippines has also adopted a strategy where it is partnering with the private sector for a more effective cyber defense. We might see the fruits of such initiatives come into play in 2021, with the aforementioned trend seeing a reversal.