Anticipating Emerging Trends in Cybersecurity

Published September 11, 2023
by Dave Stenger

Establishing a strong cybersecurity posture is a never-ending battle for the public sector. With innovations constantly emerging on both sides of the digital battlefield, it’s crucial for providers looking to secure and maintain government contracts to understand the threats the public sector faces in cybersecurity. This post explores emerging trends in cybersecurity that will become more important and prevalent as the future of cybersecurity becomes more complex and nuanced.

Expanding Attack Areas & New Cybersecurity Arenas

The proliferation of IoT devices in public infrastructure, including smart cities, transportation systems, and healthcare facilities, poses new challenges in cybersecurity.

New technologies, cloud infrastructure, and mobile devices present ample opportunities for malicious actors to scan for vulnerabilities and gain a foothold. Rather than solely targeting an agency’s traditional core network and system, savvy cyberattackers can exploit emerging “edge” or “anywhere” environments across the extended network.

These new and emerging frontiers may include employees’ personal devices that lack advanced cybersecurity features, as well as assets deployed across multiple cloud servers operating under different security policies and capabilities. As they become increasingly integrated and interconnected, cybercriminals seek to access the rest of an organization’s network through a variety of entry points, including internet-of-things (IoT) devices or operational technology (OT) tools within automated “smart building” facility management systems.

Securing IoT networks, implementing strong authentication mechanisms, and regularly patching vulnerabilities are critical to protect against potential breaches and ensure public safety.

Cybercrime-as-a-Service (CaaS)

Like streaming media, smartphone-app food delivery, and home workout programs, cybercriminal organizations and black-hat hacking collectives now offer subscription-based ransomware services that are as simple as “plug-and-play”. 

CaaS subscriptions, or turnkey products and services, represent an attractive, potentially highly lucrative business model for well-organized cybercriminals. With ransomware and other malware-as-a-service offerings growing across the dark web, sophisticated and intricate attack plans are accessible to more cybercriminals of all skill levels, putting more public-sector organizations at risk. 

Cybersecurity reconnaissance-as-a-service is another emerging criminal industry for cyberattacks more targeted at specific organizations or public agencies. Cyberattackers may hire dark-web “detectives” to gather intelligence and assemble detailed attack blueprints curated to bypass, deactivate, or compromise their intended target’s critical cybersecurity infrastructure.

Cybercrime has already become big business, and its booming supply chain offers bad actors better funding and convenient means for complex, profitable attacks. To mitigate the effects of CaaS on the public sector, organizations must implement strong authentication mechanisms, regularly patch and update systems, conduct employee training on cybersecurity awareness, and collaborate with law enforcement agencies and cybersecurity vendors to combat cybercrime effectively.

Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning

With cybersecurity threats and attacks increasing in volume, complexity, and intensity, the public sector can keep pace across the expanding attack surface area through machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI). As cybersecurity technologies and tools, AI and ML can help automate advanced threat detection. 

AI technologies and ML algorithms can analyze and search for patterns across vast amounts of data to detect malicious malware or other cybersecurity threats already present within public sector systems. 

Like any tool, bad-faith actors can use AI to strengthen their nefarious operations. Cybercriminals have used AI to thwart detection algorithms or mimic human behavior. Deep fake or “deep voice” technology can enhance social engineering attacks or generate advanced phishing efforts. For example, should malicious actors gain access to a user’s email and outbox contents, AI tools can help create phishing content disguised by writing styles, syntax, and subject matter appropriate for the supposed sender and relevant to the targeted victim. 

Money laundering-as-a-service is another emerging area within the cybercrime space. Cybercriminals have long employed “money mules” to knowingly or unknowingly transfer money across international cryptocurrency exchanges, bank accounts, and anonymous wire transfer services. ML and AI can help identify potential mules in less time or automate transfers, making them more challenging to trace.

While AI/ML can be leveraged for malicious purposes, it can also be utilized for cybersecurity defense. Organizations in the public sector must be vigilant, adopt robust security measures, and stay updated with the latest AI/ML-based attack techniques to mitigate these risks effectively.

Supply Chain Attacks

Cybercriminals often target the supply chains of public sector organizations to gain unauthorized access to sensitive data or disrupt critical infrastructure. The SolarWinds attack highlighted the vulnerability of supply chains to sophisticated attacks. 

In late 2020, attackers compromised SolarWinds’ software build system, injecting malicious code into software updates for their Orion platform. This allowed the cybercriminals to gain unauthorized access to the networks of SolarWinds’ customers, including various government agencies and contractors.

Public sector entities are now focusing on vetting their suppliers, conducting regular security audits, and implementing strong access controls to minimize the risk of supply chain attacks.

Ransomware Attacks

While ransomware attacks are not new, they are trending in the public sector. Public sector organizations hold sensitive and critical data, making them lucrative targets for cybercriminals seeking financial gain. Disrupting essential services, including temporary shutdowns of government websites, loss of access to important data and systems, and impaired public services such as healthcare, transportation, and emergency response can cost public agencies more than the ransom payment itself. 

The overall economic impact of ransomware can be significant due to the cost of recovery or potential fines but has the potential to make an even deeper impact through lawsuits or a tainted reputation. Additionally, organizations may incur additional expenses related to incident response, forensic investigations, system upgrades, and strengthening their cybersecurity defenses to prevent future attacks.

The public sector must invest in robust backup systems, train employees on recognizing phishing attempts, and regularly update security protocols to mitigate the risk of ransomware attacks.

Cybersecurity Workforce Shortage

The need for more skilled cybersecurity professionals is a persistent challenge in the public sector. The demand for qualified cybersecurity experts often exceeds the supply, making it difficult for organizations to build and maintain strong security teams. Governments and public agencies are investing in cybersecurity training programs, partnerships with educational institutions, and initiatives to attract and retain skilled professionals.

Cybersecurity is a 24/7 mission in which programs and providers must make fast changes or quick pivots to address ebbs and flows of regulatory changes, government agency decisions, or always-evolving threats. The RAMPxchange Marketplace is where providers on the leading edge of network security technologies for emerging cybersecurity threats, vulnerabilities, and attacks can enhance the cybersecurity posture of our nation’s public sector. Contact us today to learn more about joining the RAMPxchange coalition of premier cybersecurity defenders.