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Top 10 IT security predictions for 2012

WatchGuard Technologies’ security analysts have announced their 2012 security predictions. Their top 10 predictions for the year ahead are:

10) HTML5 hijacking
New web technologies like HTML5 fuel the growth for next year’s web application attacks. Like the web technologies that came before it, HTML5 is generally secure. In fact, it introduces some security benefits that could help developers avoid common web application pitfalls.

However, the security of HTML5 applications is dependent on the skill and care with which the developers create them. HTML5 is new and complex. Developers are still getting comfortable with it, which means they are likely to make programming mistakes that could translate into web vulnerabilities. For this reason, WatchGuard predicts that the increased usage of HTML5 will heavily contribute to web applications attacks next year.

9) Location-based malware
Malware will customise its attacks because the spyware knows where you live. WatchGuard suspects that malware will increasingly leverage geolocation to customise attacks, thus increasing its money-making potential. A simple technique already in use is to forward victims in specific locales targeted fraud sites that work best in that region. WatchGuard anticipates hackers will find even more malicious ways to exploit geolocation in malware next year.

8) Attacks on physical equipment
Attackers launch a digital attack that affects physical infrastructure or equipment or ‘my power plant got a virus infection’. Expect at least one digital attack in 2012 to cause a significant repercussion to a physical infrastructure system. Attacks on infrastructure, such as power grids, have long been theoretically possible; we had never really seen one happen until Stuxnet came along.

Stuxnet actually infected system control and data acquisition (SCADA) equipment, and made changes that had real physical results.  Since then, researchers and attackers alike have heavily targeted SCADA systems. Now that they have seen what highly advanced malware can accomplish against industrial control systems, they have gone all in.

7) Social media vulnerabilities
As the top vector for social engineering and malware, Facebook is forced to increase its security. If Facebook doesn’t ‘like’ security they’ll surely get ‘poked’. Two years ago, WatchGuard predicted that social networks would be a dangerous playground for attackers. Last year, WatchGuard predicted that Facebook links would take over where malicious email attachments left off. This year both those predictions continue to prove true.

Expect to see more Facebook security updates next year. In fact, in 2012 WatchGuard forecasts Facebook-based attacks will increase and Facebook will be forced to sit up and take notice. Specifically, Facebook will implement new security solutions on its site to avoid losing fed-up users.

6) ‘Bring your own’ issues
Adoption of ‘bring your own’ devices (BYOD) and IT self-service results in more data loss. Bring your own device means clean your own infections. In 2012, WatchGuard anticipates several data loss incidents and breaches as a result of the increased adoption of BYOD and self-serve IT. Proponents of BYOD say it can reduce IT costs, increase productivity, lessen helpdesk load, and just plain make employees happy.

Not only are employees bringing their own devices, but they are also launching their own network services. New cloud offerings make it possible for non-IT departments to easily contract and launch new technical services, without the help of their own IT department.

While BYOD and IT self-service do offer some clear benefits, they also come at a price—the potential loss of control. Offloading IT services and device purchase decisions to others makes it infinitely harder to implement access controls on such services and devices.

5) Apps as digital weeds
Smartphone app stores and marketplaces help proliferate mobile malware in the real world. Who planted digital weeds in my mobile app garden?

In 2012, WatchGuard forecasts that the mobile threat will continue to grow, but with a more specific source: app stores and marketplaces. To avoid mobile malware, be careful of what is downloaded from an app marketplace, and verify that the associated vendor does a solid job validating apps.

During 2011, attackers focused most of their malware delivery efforts on infecting various smartphone providers’ application delivery systems, like Google’s App Marketplace or Apple’s App Store. They have been more successful at infecting some app stores more than others, but have proven that all application repositories can be fallible.

4) Virtualised security
Increased reliance on virtualisation reawakens need for virtual security; unprotected virtual machines make bad neighbours. Expect to see a considerable rise in interest for virtualisation security solutions among smaller and medium businesses next year, due to their increased reliance on this technology.

As with other new technologies, as virtualisation matures, its usage increases among smaller companies and organisations. Many SMB IT professionals still do not fully understand the potential security ramifications of poorly implemented virtual environments. Because of the lack of security know-how and increased reliance on virtualisation, risk of data loss dramatically increases.

3) High-level data breaches
The barrage of noteworthy data breaches continues through 2012. Whether due to advanced persistent threat (APT) attackers, criminal malware authors, or hacktivist groups like Anonymous and LulzSec, WatchGuard saw more headline-grabbing hacks than in any previous year. It is hard to say if the increase in reported breaches is due to smarter criminals, more attacks, hacktivists, or just new regulations that require businesses to report data loss. In any case, expect this trend to continue in 2012.

Now that criminals realise how much they can make by stealing data, and hacktivists realise that network attacks draw attention, WatchGuard suspects that they will both continue to besiege networks for next year.

2) Criminals choose smaller targets
Organised criminals will leverage advanced malware techniques in targeted attacks against businesses, which means APTs will trickle down to SMBs and consumers. Expect the APT trend to continue in 2012, but with a slightly new twist. APTs will trickle down to everyday people.

Last year, WatchGuard predicted the growth of APTs. This prediction seems to have proven true with big breaches like RSA’s SecureID incident and operation ShadyRat, as well as the discovery of Stuxnet’s successor, Duqu. As expected, these APTs of 2011 primarily affected very big organisations, such as governments, industrial control providers, and large enterprises. In 2012, less sophisticated criminals will start to leverage the advanced techniques they’ve learned about from APTs, to create more advanced malware targeting smaller businesses and even consumers.

1) Threatening clouds
A major cloud provider will suffer a significant security breach as cloud computing brings chance of malware storms. In 2012, expect organised criminals to target cloud services, and significantly breach at least one well known cloud provider. That said, also expect to see smarter, trustworthy cloud providers recognise that risk, and add premium security to their offerings.

While many cloud services offer attractive benefits, they also leverage complex technologies that have security ramifications. Most cloud providers rely on intricate, custom-made web applications, or leverage virtualisation to provide scalability and multi-tenancy. These are great technologies, however they can also pose dire risks when implemented insecurely.

Add to the equation the fact that many customers share sensitive data with one popular cloud provider. It is easy to see why a single large cloud provider presents an extremely juicy target to attackers.

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Scott Robertson

Scott Robertson

Scott Robertson is the vice president, Asia-Pacific, of Channels and Alliances at WatchGuard Technologies, a business security specialist based in Seattle, USA.

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