Cybersecurity in 2017 focusing on Asia Pacific

I would like to share my final thoughts on 2016 and what I believe awaits us in 2017, particularly in the APAC market.

Cybersecurity Awakening

Following suit of the US and Europe, the Asia Pacific  financial community is waking up to the necessity of cyber readiness. Central banks are beginning to recognize the need for continuous assessment based simulations and ongoing testing to measure cyber readiness. For example, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) has issued a call to financial institutions to join their Cybersecurity Fortification Initiative, which aims to continuously monitor and assess systems and processes’ resilience against cyber threats. The initiative brings together major players like the Hong Kong Association of Banks (HKAB) and ASTRI to develop a cyber intelligence sharing platform. These multiple channels aim to collect, analyze and share detailed cyber analysis to advise companies on threats and make security recommendations.

But will this help?

Early Cyber Detection Remains Key!

As the old saying goes, it’s not what you spend, but how you spend it. According to a report by Cybersecurity Ventures, Asia-Pacific is quickly becoming a serious market for cyber security, as cyber criminals target these emerging economies. The report predicted a worldwide 5-year forecast of $1 Trillion that will be spent on IT alone. Countries with growing economies, such as China, India and South-East Asia will certainly spend their fair share over the coming years. So where’s all this money going to and are companies more cyber-safe, when all’s said and done?

The primary issue is that most companies are currently using a defensive posture, when dealing with cyber threats.  They look to fortify their positions with firewalls, encryptions and secure access devices, but these “solutions” do not take care of the problem. The volume of attacks has increased substantially and so has their level of sophistication.

Early detection, anticipating threat actors’ thoughts, what they are trying to achieve and how on any type of targeted threat is the only feasible way forward.

Organizations are mistakenly assured that their assets are protected as they have recently invested in the latest technology, but the attack vectors are changing constantly. What we see today is that threat actors are actually shifting to start their attack on assets beyond your perimeter such as social media and online assets.

The Dangers of Digital Transactions

The third quarter of 2016 was witness to a tremendous change in how financial transactions are conducted. The use of mobile banking applications climbed by 50% since the same quarter last year with more people now using mobile devices than desktop or laptop computers to conduct their finances. This has led to new challenges and a spike in cyberattacks. Over 130 million attacks were recorded during the third quarter, which mirrored the rise of mobile use for financial transactions.

What are some of the specific dangers facing financial app users? In 2015, cybercriminals began using mobile malware with greater frequency and the trend has increased.  The malware has been dubbed overlay malware and now comes in hundreds of versions that are harder than ever to detect. Examples include, Acecard, Slembunk, Gugi and Tordow among others. The malware creates fake bank applications, e-commerece apps and payment platforms and overlaps them with the real app to cause confusion, facilitating for easy theft of SMS two factor authentication codes and user credentials.

Recent Examples

Acecard overlays apps like (WhatsApp, Gmail, banking apps…) with phishing windows to steal social network credentials and bank accounts. Over the last year, this malware has targeted over 30 major mobile banking applications.

Tordow mimics the famous Pokeman Go game, but instead of playing a fun and interactive game you get malicious code, which breaks your banking app credentials.

The point is that as the use of mobile device applications proliferate, so will cybercrime methods.

What will 2017 Bring?

There is no doubt that cybercriminals will continue to search for the weakest link, and right now the connectivity that IoT devices and social media outlets provide enable plenty of opportunity for them. The millions of unsecured remote devices accessing cloud resources, is like a powder keg waiting to go off.

The second half of 2016 was plagued by a number of mammoth scale DDoS attacks that caused wide disruption of internet activity globally. Attacks in the 3rd quarter of 2016 were up by 71% in relation to the number of attacks in the same quarter in 2015. The scope of the attacks were exasperated by the use of thousands of unsecured endpoint devices and infecting them with malicious code, disrupting major commercial websites like Paypal and numerous online retail shops.

On the social media front, ransomware attacks more than doubled over the 3rd quarter of 2016, after a quiet 2015. Attack statistics are staggering with 1.5 million malicious installation packages, 1.2 million money-stealing malware incidents and  821,000 unique device crypto ransomware attacks. Cybercriminals use social media and popular brands to trick people and steal sensitive information and money. The impact on your marketing team’s activities on their favourite social media channel is also significant. (More on that on a separate post we are working on for 2017.)

This means that your cybersecurity must delve far beyond the perimeter to have a chance of protecting your business assets.

As the new year is set to roll in, don’t be discouraged by a seemingly bleak cyber future in 2017. Cyber technology developed by experts and leaders in the field is advancing at a significant pace, allowing you to stay just about one step ahead of the bad guys.

Wishing us all a cyber-safe 2017!


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