Cybersecurity trends for 2019 in the Latin America region

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From Buenos Aires to Rio de Janeiro, cities all over South America are today using Internet of Things(IoT) to improve the lives of its citizens. Sensors in Brazil now warn of gas leaks before they become dangerous. Smart technology is everywhere, enabling city organizations to proactively alert people about traffic conditions, inclement weather, and other hazards.

It wont be an exaggeration to say that the region is getting ready for an IoT boom. According to a report by the Evans Corporation this year, South American developers are particularly keen on developing IoT technology; 60 percent of developers are planning IoT projects and 22 percent are already executing on them. But as more and more sensors and devices are connected to the internet, cyber criminals gain more opportunities to leverage unattended vulnerabilities. IoT botnets have the ability to compromise and leverage thousands of these devices to wreak havoc.

2018 saw a range of attacks on IoT infrastructure. Wicked, OMG Mirai, ADB.Miner, DoubleDoor, Hide ‘N Seek and Mirai-Variant IoT Botnets were widely seen in cyberattacks around the world. VPNFilter malware was behind the largest attack of the year with over half a million devices infected across over 50 countries in a single episode.

2019 will see hackers go after data with increased zeal. This include highjacking devices as part of Advanced Persistant Threat attacks and using them to gain access to sensitive data and IP which could be held for ransom. The sectors that will attract maximum attacks in South America include oil and gas, infrastructure, utilities, defense and retail. Attacks bearing a geo-political motive are also expected to increase this year.

Regional hackers have figured out that businesses are more willing to pay ransoms to prevent such data from being published online or on the dark web. This they are working to target devices and networks to pilfer data and record conversations of value.  Another tactic gaining currency is data poisoning wherein inaccurate information is fed into decision making systems to disrupt large systems.

Publishing zero-day vulnerabilities without taking the vendor into confidence or giving them reaction time to patch devices creates a unique advantage for hackers as they can take advantage of such vulnerabilities to create widespread damage.  This trend will persist in 2019 albeit with vendors turning more cooperative, lesser instances will come to the fore.

With more businesses using bots to log data in CRMERP or other business management software, the data accessed by such bots is becoming more critical with each passing year. By spoofing identity, hackers can gain access to critical systems and then use such bots to exfiltrate data and since most of these bots are today working with very less monitoring, an attack could theoretically last months or even years, if they go undetected.

As geo-political faults expand, cyberwarfare has turned deadlier. Today actors sponsored by nation states are investing in AI-based offenses to harass their adversaries. Geo-political attacks are now targeting critical industrial systems, utilities, smart devices, renewable energy farms, offshore oil rigs and more. With agencies finding it difficult to suppress information on such attacks from leaking out into the mass media, hackers are getting more aggressive as the impact of their work becomes more visible, monetarily rewarding and discussed.

Sectors such as banking and financial services, healthcare, oil and gas and retail will continue to attract attention from hackers in 2019. The attacks will get more sophisticated and the attack signature will turn even paler as hackers use newer tactics and strategies to breach networks.

On the response front, as this article is being written, we are clearly seeing cybersecurity being addressed through “codes of practice” and “guidelines”. The government of California has openly come out with its resolve to make businesses do more towards securing their infrastructure and others will follow in 2019. What is still missing is a coordinated effort to address the problem at hand. Cybersecurity will remain a half-hearted battle till all stakeholders join hands and launch a coordinated effort to curb the menace.

Globally, cybercrimes cost $600 in damages in 2017. No nation is rich enough to afford such a huge loss individually or collectively. Instead if this money were to be deployed for improving healthcare, generating employment and in improving civic infrastructure, the magnitude of the loss becomes more apparent.  Hopefully 2019 will be the year where we see more coordination between stakeholders. Such a collaboration is inevitable if we are to see lasting progress in the war on cybercrimes.

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