Forrester: These 5 threats could hobble pandemic recovery

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If businesses are going to successfully navigate the road ahead they’ll need to focus on these security problems and attack vectors.

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A new report from Forrester is giving enterprises a path forward out of the pandemic with a serious security warning: There are five major problems, and five attack vectors, which could slow post-pandemic progress in 2021.

The five greatest threats to businesses in 2021 will be different from those in 2020, but Forrester is predicting the attack vectors used by cybercriminals to be similar to those from last year. In descending order, the most common attack vectors for 2021 will be:

  • Web application attacks like SQL injection, XSS and remote file inclusion,

  • Exploitation of lost or stolen assets,

  • Malware,

  • Software vulnerabilities and exploits,

  • Use of stolen credentials.

SEE: COVID-19 workplace policy (TechRepublic Premium)

Of the five vectors Forrester warns about, only malware attacks are predicted to decline in 2021. The rest, the report said, will be seen increasingly often as the year goes on.

Security professionals will need to keep tabs on those five threat vectors, but they aren’t the only things that could slow pandemic recovery operations. In addition to those five attack types, there are five emerging types of threats that will be dangerous in 2021, and those five threats could use the aforementioned attack vectors to achieve attacker objectives. 

1. COVID-19 misinformation and espionage will shift to disrupting vaccine programs

With COVID-19 vaccination efforts full steam ahead, state-sponsored misinformation campaigns will start trying to attack vaccine distribution, verification, and recovery chains. Forrester is warning any businesses involved in COVID-19 vaccine research, manufacture, distribution, storage and administration to be on high alert “for espionage and covert action aimed at disrupting or degrading those efforts.”

Forrester recommends that security pros in the healthcare and government sectors, as well as those that supply them, leverage information from sources like the Health Information Sharing and Analysis Center in order to keep up on current threats, counter misinformation and ensure cyberattacks don’t slow pandemic recovery.

2. Insider threats from unhappy employees will spike

“As the next normal fully takes shape in 2021, the economic uncertainty for enterprises has started to force tough decisions,” Forrester said. Employees who have been worried about job security over the past year will be on edge and could become insider threats when faced with financial woes and unemployment.

Forrester recommends implementing endpoint detection and response software trained to recognize malicious insider activity, as well as taking the time now to establish reliable identity and access management policies that will eliminate unnecessary permissions for current employees as well as quickly terminating access for employees who leave.

3. Identity theft and account takeover will continue to be a major threat

“We estimate that, exacerbated by COVID-19 and the resulting growth in digital interactions, identity theft and account takeover increased by at least 10% to 15% from 2019 to 2020. Anticipate another 8% to 10% increase in identity theft and account takeover fraud in 2021,” the report said. 

Organizations need to improve identity verification techniques by adding additional authentication factors, implementing zero-trust security, considering passwordless authentication and using other verification methods to ensure compromised credentials can’t be used by bad actors. 

4. Bots-as-a-service are a rising threat

In 2019, the last year data was available, bad bots constituted 24.1% of all internet traffic, and Forrester said it likely rose again in 2020 and will continue to rise in 2021. Bot services that make programming and deploying bots a simple matter of having the money to do so will only increase the threat, which is responsible for problems like inventory hoarding, credential stuffing, ad fraud, web scraping and other problems. 

Online retailers should invest in bot management solutions that can detect and defend against the sort of bots that make the above-mentioned problems such a headache for consumers and B2B customers. “Web application providers: Work with your bot management vendor to cut off the bots-as-a-service business model. Manufacturers whose merchandise is sold by other websites: Educate your sellers about bots as a service and ask about their bot management implementations,” Forrester said.

5. COVID-19 apps are vulnerable and desirable targets

Contact tracing apps and “immunity passports” that have been rolled out in several countries around the world have been easy targets “despite the promise of strong privacy and security,” Forrester said. One app from India had no server-side data validation and insufficiently checked APIs, leading one security researcher to be able to determine who was sick and where they lived; another app from Qatar exposed national ID numbers and the health status of more than one million people. 

COVID-19 apps are filled with valuable personal information, and Forrester recommends four precautions for organizations that use them or build them:

  • Ensure strong role and event-based access controls are in place,

  • Pseudonymize and encrypt all data at all times,

  • Enforce severe access policies on third-party access,

  • Define and enforce strict data retention policies.

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