Knowing what will happen in the future is rather a balance between a guessing game and precise algorithmic estimations.
Driven by curiosity about technology advancements, Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” predicted earbuds, Douglas Adams’ “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” hinted at audio translating apps, and William Gibson's "Neuromancer" foresaw cyberspace and computer hackers. Then science fiction, now a reality – it's human nature to speculate on what will happen next.
Let’s embrace a paradox, and just like in a sci-fi setup, ask Artificial Intelligence (AI), a technological evolution staple defining our era, how cyber threats will look in the future.
The cyber threat landscape in 10 years
The types of cyber threats will likely evolve with the advancement of technology. As new technologies such as quantum computing, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things (IoT), and advanced biometrics become more widespread, they will likely become targets for cyber threats.
With quantum computers potentially on the horizon, we might see the advent of quantum-based cyber-attacks that could render current encryption methods obsolete.
Quantum computers use principles of quantum mechanics to process information. If they become practical and widespread, they could potentially break the cryptographic algorithms that secure online communication today.
Just last November, IBM revealed its 433 qubits quantum computer Osprey news to the public. This hyper-powerful machine is a successor to the last 2021’s attempt to develop a quantum computer, which was 3 times less effective than the latest device.
Today science reached only the brink of quantum computing due to technological limitations. But cybersecurity would necessitate new encryption methods once the quantum computing revolution potential is released.
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A quick check on definitions
💡 Quantum computing is a new type of computation that uses the principles of quantum mechanics.
💡 Quantum mechanics is the theory that explains how the smallest particles in the Universe behave.
💡 Quantum computers use quantum bits (qubits), which, unlike classical bits (that can be either 0 or 1), can be in a state of superposition, where they can be both 0 and 1 simultaneously.
💡 Because of superposition, quantum computers perform many calculations in parallel and solve certain types of problems faster than classical computers.
The growth in AI could lead to AI-generated attacks. AI-backed threats could involve machine learning algorithms to navigate to security measures, making them harder to prevent or detect.
Automated attacks and methods to create malware that can learn and adapt to its environment pose huge risks to the cybersecurity landscape. As AI technology advances, these threats will likely become more sophisticated and harder to mitigate.
Among these AI-projected risks are AI-enhanced phishing attacks. By using natural language processing, deep-fake technology, and machine learning algorithms, attackers can craft personalized and context-aware phishing emails that are difficult to identify as malicious. This can increase the success rate of phishing attacks and social engineering, leading to potential compromise of sensitive information.
Artificial intelligence can also enable the creation of botnets. AI algorithms can help botnets evade detection, automate attack techniques, and dynamically adapt to defenses. This can lead to larger and more resilient botnets that can carry out coordinated and sophisticated attacks.
Internet of Things (IoT)
As more devices connect to the internet, each becomes a potential vulnerability. Sophisticated large-scale attacks on infrastructure could become more common.
IoT devices are notoriously lacking in security, often being designed for convenience over safety. The IoT ecosystem lacks universal standards and regulations, leading to inconsistent security practices across devices and platforms, making them easy targets for malicious actors to exploit.
Data privacy concerns fall under the scope of IoT devices that collect vast amounts of personal and sensitive data. Location information, health data, and behavioral patterns under improper handling or unauthorized access to this data can lead to privacy breaches and potentially enable identity theft or targeted attacks.
IoT devices integrated into critical infrastructure, such as smart grids, healthcare systems, or autonomous vehicles, introduce the risk of physical harm if compromised. An attacker gaining control over such systems could cause disruptions, accidents, or even loss of life.
The increased use of biometric data, which involves using unique biological or behavioral characteristics for identification and authentication purposes, could lead to new types of identity theft, where hackers target biometric databases to impersonate individuals.
Potential biometric data tampering is another high-risk threat if biometric data is not securely stored or transmitted. An attacker gaining unauthorized access to the stored biometric data could modify it, leading to authentication failures or unauthorized access to secured systems.
Ultimately, gained biometric data can lead to cross-matching attacks that involve combining stolen biometric data from different sources to impersonate individuals across multimodal systems. If one modality is compromised, an attacker could use another modality to gain unauthorized access.
Distinctive changes in cybersecurity threats
The integration of cyber-physical systems and increasing digitization of everyday life will likely lead to a broader scope for unseen cyber threats. Cybersecurity could become a more significant concern in sectors that previously didn't prioritize it as much, like manufacturing, agriculture, and healthcare.
Cyber-physical systems blend physical infrastructure with digital controls. Cyber threats could thus directly affect physical reality, for example, tampering with self-driving vehicles or smart city infrastructure. Integrating physical and digital systems is becoming increasingly common in the manufacturing, energy, and transportation sectors. This is creating new opportunities for cyber threats.
An attacker compromising a cyber-physical system could cause real-world harm. For instance, if an attacker could take control of a self-driving car's system, they could cause an accident. Similarly, threats to smart grids could disrupt power supplies, and threats to smart manufacturing systems could disrupt production or cause physical damage.
As cyber-physical systems increase, we can expect cybersecurity threats to become more physical and potentially more dangerous. This trend will necessitate a greater focus on securing our data and the digital systems interacting with the physical world.
The continued growth of global connectivity means an attack in one place can quickly spread elsewhere. This may lead to more coordinated global responses to cyber threats.
The digital world is becoming more interconnected, making it easier for cyber threats to spread. This interconnectedness can also amplify the impact of attacks. For instance, a single successful attack on a cloud service provider could impact thousands of businesses that use that service.
In an increasingly interconnected world, it's also more likely that threats will cross national borders. This could lead to greater international cooperation on cybersecurity, with countries working together to defend against threats and to track down and prosecute cybercriminals. We may also see the development of international norms and regulations related to cybersecurity.
The trends suggest that the cybersecurity landscape will become more complex and potentially more dangerous over the next decade. Protecting against future threats will require technological advances, better cybersecurity practices, and possibly increased international cooperation.
Unchanged aspects of cyber threats
While the specifics of cyber threats will change, several underlying principles will likely remain constant. The shared tendency is not purely technological fundaments of the threats but more on personal motivation and individual mindset.
Many cyber threats, even sophisticated ones, rely on exploiting human error or human psychology. For example, phishing attacks trick people into revealing sensitive information, such as passwords.
Similarly, ransomware often infiltrates systems because someone clicks on a malicious link or attachment.
Despite technological advances, the human element is often the weakest link in cybersecurity. This is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future. Human nature is a constant, and cybercriminals will likely continue to exploit this to their advantage.
Some basic principles of cybersecurity are timeless. For example, the principle of least privilege, which says that users should be given the minimum levels of access necessary to perform their tasks, is a fundamental principle of cybersecurity that helps to limit the potential damage if a system is breached.
Similarly, keeping software up-to-date is crucial for cybersecurity, as updates often include patches for known security vulnerabilities. These principles will likely remain important regardless of how the specifics of cyber threats evolve.
Cybercrime will continue to be driven by financial gain. Where there's value (like in personal data or corporate secrets), individuals or groups will seek illicit ways to acquire it.
Cybercriminals often seek to steal data they can sell, such as credit card numbers, or extort money directly from their victims, such as through ransomware. As long as money is to be made from cybercrime, and the perceived risk of getting caught is low, people will likely continue to engage in it. Therefore, the economic drivers of cybercrime are unlikely to disappear.
These factors underline the ongoing need for cybersecurity awareness, education, and robust security policies. While technology and specific threats will evolve, the human element, basic cybersecurity practices, and the motivations behind cybercrime will likely remain constants in the cybersecurity landscape.
Technology to mitigate and handle cyber threats
Advancements in technology will also shape cybersecurity measures. Or, as people say, fight fire with fire.
AI and machine learning
These technologies will become crucial in identifying and responding to threats, potentially in real-time. They can also help predict and mitigate future threats based on pattern recognition.
The role of AI and Machine Learning in enhancing cybersecurity defenses is key. AI is a powerful tool to detect abnormal behavior and identify threats in real-time based on patterns and irregularities that might be too subtle for a human to notice. Machine learning, a subset of AI, continuously learns from each attack and improves detection algorithms, enabling defenses to evolve along with the threats.
Moreover, AI could potentially be used for predictive threat intelligence, foreseeing cyber threats before they happen using historical data to predict future attack patterns.
In response to potential quantum threats, quantum cryptography and post-quantum cryptography methods may become common to secure data.
With the potential arrival of quantum computers, current cryptographic algorithms could become obsolete. Quantum cryptography, particularly Quantum Key Distribution (QKD), offers a possible solution.
QKD allows two parties to generate a shared secret key that can be used to encrypt and decrypt messages. According to quantum mechanics principles, if an eavesdropper tries to measure the quantum particles used to form the key, their state will be changed, alerting the parties involved to the breach
Blockchain and other decentralized systems could provide more secure data storage and transmission alternatives.
A blockchain is essentially a distributed ledger that records transactions across multiple computers so that the record cannot be altered retroactively. This makes it resistant to tampering, which is why it could significantly improve cybersecurity.
Blockchain can provide improved security for IoT devices, supply chain security, secure private messaging, identity verification, and more.
Cybersecurity skill development
While not a technology in itself, the importance of human expertise in cybersecurity is paramount. Therefore, educational and training programs that equip people with the necessary skills to handle evolving cyber threats will be crucial. This might involve traditional educational programs, online courses, simulation tools, and AI-driven personalized learning platforms.
Remember that while these technologies will certainly help enhance cybersecurity defenses, there is no magic solution that can solve all challenges. The cyber threat landscape continuously evolves, and defending against these threats requires technological solutions, sound cybersecurity practices, robust policies, and a well-educated user base.
After exploring potential future scenarios in the evolving cybersecurity landscape, one thing is clear – staying ahead of the game is important.
To be completely sure, we asked if the future ahead was bright. The AI being an AI, couldn’t provide a Yes or No answer, yet it referred that the future ahead is in a grey area.
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“The future will likely be a mix of remarkable advancements and challenging issues. It will be shaped by our ability to manage these opportunities and challenges, policy decisions, cultural shifts, and many other variables. The key lies in harnessing the benefits of technological progress while minimizing its potential negative impacts.”
Thinking strategically about business cybersecurity is crucial to prepare for upcoming challenges. NordLayer is designed to grow with your organization’s network security needs. Ensure authorized-only connections, enable threat-blocking features, and make cybersecurity user-friendly by implementing integral and easy-to-assess network access for all ways of working.