Hackers are constantly finding new targets and refining the tools they use to break through cyberdefenses. The following are some significant threats to look out for this year.
More huge data breaches
The cyberattack on the Equifax credit reporting agency in 2017, which led to the theft of Social Security numbers, birth dates, and other data on almost half the U.S. population, was a stark reminder that hackers are thinking big when it comes to targets. Other companies that hold lots of sensitive information will be in their sights in 2018.
Ransomware in the cloud
The past 12 months have seen a plague of ransomware attacks, with targets including Britain’s National Health Service, San Francisco’s light-rail network, and big companies such as FedEx. Ransomware is a relatively simple form of malware that breaches defenses and locks down computer files using strong encryption. Hackers then demand money in exchange for digital keys to unlock the data. Victims will often pay, especially if the material encrypted hasn’t been backed up.
The weaponization of AI
This year will see the emergence of an AI-driven arms race. Security firms and researchers have been using machine-learning models, neural networks, and other AI technologies for a while to better anticipateattacks, and to spot ones already under way. It’s highly likely that hackers are adopting the same technology to strike back. “AI unfortunately gives attackers the tools to get a much greater return on their investment,” explains Steve Grobman, chief technology officer at McAfee.
More hacks targeting electrical grids, transportation systems, and other parts of countries’ critical infrastructure are going to take place in 2018. Some will be designed to cause immediate disruption (see “A Hack Used to Plunge Ukraine into Darkness Could Still Do Far More Damage”), while others will involve ransomware that hijacks vital systems and threatens to wreak havoc unless owners pay swiftly to regain control of them. During the year, researchers—and hackers—are likely to uncover more chinks in the defenses of older planes, trains, ships, and other modes of transport that could leave them vulnerable.
Hackers, including some allegedly from North Korea, have been targeting holders of Bitcoin and other digital currencies. But the theft of cryptocurrency isn’t the biggest threat to worry about in 2018; instead, it’s the theft of computer processing power.
Hacking elections (again!)
Fake news isn’t the only threat facing any country running an election. There’s also the risk of cyberattacks on the voting process itself. It’s now clear that Russian hackers targeted voting systems in numerous American states ahead of the 2016 presidential election (see “Latest NSA Leak Reveals Exactly the Kind of Cyberattack Experts Had Warned About”). With midterm elections looming in the U.S. in November, officials have been working hard to plug vulnerabilities. But determined attackers still have plenty of potential targets, from electronic voter rolls to voting machines and the software that’s used to collate and audit results.
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