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The year 2021 is finally here, bringing with it the promise of a brighter future -- but a long road ahead. In this piece, we'll dive into five cybersecurity trends that pose significant potential risk in 2021 and offer practical advice to help entities reduce overall risk. The first quarter of 2021 represents a cybersecurity crossroads. Business owners may be shifting staff back into the office and managing the risks and rewards of remote work at the same time. For malicious actors, this opens a door. From common compromise vectors to new threats, attackers are always looking for ways to escape IT notice, evade defense measures and exploit emerging weaknesses.
Over the past year, the sheer number of ransomware attacks have increased dramatically, with organizations of all stripes being affected: government entities, educational institutions, healthcare facilities, retailers, and even agricultural groups. While the bulk of the media attention has been on critical infrastructure and large organizations, attackers are not limiting themselves to just those types of victims. "That's really just the tip of the iceberg," says Max Heinemeyer, director of threat hunting at Darktrace. "We see not just big names being hit. It's basically any company where adversaries think they can pay the ransom. Anybody who's got money and running some kind of digital business is basically in the crosshairs."
Ransomware, COVID-19, and nation-state attacks made 2020 a banner year for cybercrime. Many organizations were caught unprepared, even though there had been plenty of warnings about potential pandemics and nothing unexpected at all about more ransomware attacks or countries waging cyberwar. There are no signs this year will be better on the cybersecurity front. Criminals are sitting on piles of money they can invest in improving their attack technologies and infrastructure, and nations will continue to pursue their political goals via sophisticated hacks. But some of the tactics will be novel or at least little seen so far.
Microsoft is warning organizations that use Exchange email servers to shore up their systems now after observing a massive spike in highly skillful attacks this April. The company's alert details how advanced cyber attackers are using freely available open-source software and a known, critical vulnerability to attack Exchange email servers – one of the most valuable sources of information in any organization. Exchange has been under attack for months now by multiple government-backed hackers who quickly pounced on a particularly nasty Exchange security flaw (CVE-2020-0688) shortly after Microsoft offered patches in February. The flaw meant all Exchange email servers released in the past decade used identical cryptographic keys for the control panel's backend, which allowed remote attackers to run malware on it and take full control of the server to gain access to a target's email store. But many organizations ignored Microsoft's warning to patch the Exchange bug, which it predicted would come under attack in the near future.