Predicting trends in cybersecurity is notoriously difficult.
New threats can emerge seemingly out of the blue, with new technologies becoming
quickly popular as organizations scramble to protect their data, customers and
But as we look forward to 2020, one thing we can be sure
about is the average cost of a data breach will continue to rise. In 2019, the
average cost of an attack grew rapidly – by some estimates to $4 million per
breach, outlining just how crucial it is that businesses implement strong email
In mid-2019, we outlined five cybersecurity trends for 2019,
including seeing a rise in phishing attacks, increasing challenges around
meeting data regulations, managing remote working and endpoint security, the
growth of browser isolation, and managing cloud security.
But what are security analysts predicting as the top
cybersecurity trends for 2020?
Email Attacks Will Remain the Top Vector for Threats – With Targeted Phishing and Business Email Compromise (BEC) On the Rise
At the end of 2019, research from security awareness
training vendor Knowbe4 found that 91%
of cyberattacks start with an email. Specifically, a spear-phishing
attempt. Spear-phishing attacks have long plagued IT departments, but as
organizations have moved to the cloud, they have become even more
Spear-Phishing targets individual users with fake login
pages or fraudulent payment requests, often impersonating companies that an
individual may legitimately does business with. This is often highly
successful, and can lead to financial loss, or can lead to malware and
ransomware infecting company machines. Cloud-based email security clients have
some inbuilt protection against these attacks, but are often not able to detect
phishing attempts from genuine emails.
Targeted phishing attacks are already becoming more common.
Research from email and data security vendor Mimecast revealed that there has
been a massive 269%
increase in the number of business email compromise attacks reported by
Business email compromise represents cyber criminals finding
a new way to bypass email security defences. BEC involves cyber criminals
breaking into high level company accounts, such as the CEO, or other C-level
employees, and using this access to trick employees into making fraudulent
To mitigate the effects of these rising attacks, many
businesses will be looking to enhance their email security portfolio. In recent
years there has been a rise in the number of ‘post-delivery’ protection vendors,
that can detect and identify phishing and business email compromise attempts
and remove them automatically, even if they have already been delivered to
IRONSCALES, is one such vendor utilizing human intelligence
and machine learning technologies to identify email senders in real-time and
prevent email spoofing and impersonation attempts.
AI powered Automation Will Grow, Both in Security Technologies, and By Attackers
‘AI-powered’ has long been a buzzword in IT technology
marketing, but a clear trend for 2020 will be AI technologies becoming the new
arms race between IT security vendors and cyber attackers.
AI is an important tool for finding patterns in behaviour
that can identify attacks. In email security for example, artificial
intelligence can be deployed to learn the communication habits of an
organization, using this information to identify anomalies and potential cyber-
AI is also being employed heavily in identity and access
management, with businesses increasingly moving towards adaptive authentication
solutions. These platforms learn the regular login habits of an individual
using AI systems. This can help to accurately predict security breaches, and
implement security systems like 2FA and MFA, without disrupting the everyday
productivity of the user.
However, AI technology is increasingly being used by cyber
criminals to identify patterns in security solutions. AI systems can help cyber
criminals to generate more realistic looking phishing pages faster for example,
and help them to more effectively spot gaps in security systems and
infrastructure. As AI systems become more complex thanks to open-source
development, they also become more widely available and simpler to deploy,
making it easier for cyber criminals to utilize them.
This game of cat and mouse between cyber criminals and IT
security vendors, utilizing artificial intelligence to improve systems and
threat detection is already taking place. Hackers are increasingly
using automated bots to carry out attacks, such as ransomware on much
larger scales. This is in-turn causing more businesses and government agencies
to turn to AI powered security solutions to protect themselves against these
There Will Be Increased Migration to Cloud Services
One of the major security trends we’ve seen over the past
few years is businesses replacing their IT infrastructure, and in turn their cybersecurity
infrastructure, with cloud based security solutions. This trend has rapidly
accelerated over the past year, and is very likely to continue into 2020, as
cloud solutions become more ubiquitous and more affordable and easier to set-up
for smaller businesses.
In January 2019, it was reported that 69%
of enterprises are moving business-critical applications to the cloud. 94%
of businesses already
use cloud services in some capacity, and over the course of 2020,
organizations are likely to continue to move their infrastructure to cloud
Moving to the cloud offers businesses more stability, helps
to save money, and through platforms like Office 365, provides features for
greater productivity and flexibility. But the move to the cloud also brings
with it a host of security challenges, including moving sensitive data, meeting
legal compliance needs, identity management and reducing the impact of business
email compromise and phishing attacks.
Cloud platforms like Office 365 and Gsuite are great tools
for productivity, allowing one account to give users access to multiple
documents, applications and workflows. But of course, this also means that if a
cyber-criminal is able to access this account, they are able to access far more
data than would previously be available. For this reason, as businesses have
moved to the cloud, credential phishing attacks have increased.
analysts have also predicted that dealing with data privacy breaches and
regulatory fines will be a key security trend in 2020, as organizations
increasingly move data to the cloud and need to ensure that it remains secure. Increasing
cloud migration and the associated security challenges will likely be one of
the major cybersecurity trends in 2020.
MSPs Will Find Themselves Increasingly Targeted by Cyber Attacks – Especially Ransomware
One of the most harmful cybersecurity trends that developed
in 2018 and 2019 was the increased
targeting of security managed service providers (MSPs) by cyber criminals. MSPs
are relied on by thousands of businesses to maintain and supply critical IT and
cybersecurity services that are too complex or expensive to be managed
internally. Typically, small, mid-sized, healthcare and smaller local
governments are the kind of organizations that rely on MSPs for cybersecurity.
MSPs use remote monitoring services to access their clients’
networks and security solutions, allowing them to monitor activities, fix
problems and make sure endpoints are protected and updated. MSPs can maintain
the security of dozens of other organizations – which makes them a prime target
for attack by cyber criminals. This is especially true for ransomware attacks.
Ransomware attacks involve cyber criminals distributing malware which encrypts
data on endpoints, making it impossible for organizations to access critical
data and documents, unless a ransom is paid. MSPs have increasingly become a
big target for ransomware distributors, as a successful compromise leads to
multiple organizations being affected.
These attacks against MSPs are becoming more widespread, and
this will more likely than not continue into 2020. According to research from Datto
4/5 MSPs agree that they are increasingly being targeted by ransomware attacks.
In 2019 there were several examples of MSPs being hit by ransomware attacks by
criminals looking to gain access to their client’s sensitive data. In October, the
government had to issue an alert that attackers were conducting a campaign,
specifically targeted at MSPs and their clients, which affected major MSPs
including Hewlett Packard and IBM. This attack began very simply, with a
spear-phishing email campaign which was designed to give attackers access to
legitimate MSP account credentials. Cyber criminals would then use these
compromised accounts to infiltrate their clients and gain access to sensitive
MSPs are a lucrative target for cyber criminals, due to the
large amount of data and clients that they have access to. Successfully being
breached can be devastating for MSP customers though, leading to a breakdown of
trust with their customers, as well as the costly remediation that it takes to
get services up and running again after being hit by a successful ransomware
attack. As these attacks are likely to increase in number and in sophistication
over the next few years, MSPs will need to take
a proactive approach to their own security, in order to better protect
The Cybersecurity Skills Shortage Is Likely to Worsen
Over the past few years one of the major problems among cybersecurity
vendors and innovators has been the growing cybersecurity skills shortage. Research
suggests that during 2020, the number of unfilled cybersecurity jobs will
rise to 3.5 million globally, from just 1 million in 2014. Some
estimates put the global cybersecurity skills gap at over 4 million, with
the problem getting incrementally
worse each year.
In the United Kingdom, the cybersecurity skills gap has been
described as ‘critical’,
with research revealing that 87% of IT professionals finding it difficult to
find highly trained cybersecurity experts to fill internal vacancies and combat
This has led to universities becoming more practical with
teaching crucial cybersecurity skills, rather than taking a more theoretical
approach, with the aim of helping to prepare students to go into hands-on
cybersecurity roles. It’s also led to universities and colleges offering
discounts on cybersecurity courses, to help encourage more students to take it
up as an area of study. However, some
have argued that waiting for universities and colleges is not a viable
It’s likely that cybersecurity vendors themselves will need
to help build out the workforce to close the cybersecurity skills gap. This
will need to include focussing on training and professional development
opportunities, attracting new workers and college graduates and training them
with relevant security training, and cross-training existing IT professionals
with transferrable skills. These steps were outlined in a report from ISC2.
This cybersecurity skills gap is likely to grow even further in the early 2020s, leading to problems as cyber-criminals continue to grow more sophisticated, while security vendors lack the experts needed to develop the technology to counter them. Dealing with this issue, and putting in place the training and policies needed to close the skills gap, will likely be one of the big cybersecurity trends we see in 2020.
A final major trend we will likely see in 2020 comes largely
as a result of the other trends we have covered in this article – organizations
will need to continue to invest more time and resources into their cybersecurity
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