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When it comes to cybersecurity threats, 2023 has been a year of rapid change and continued growth. From Ransomware becoming ever more prevalent to Generative AI and ChatGPT bursting on the scene breaking down barriers to adoption making artificial intelligence a commonplace in both offensive and defensive cyber operations. Now, with anyone able to access and use this technology, our imagination is our only limitation — but we may not always have the best of intentions.

As the cost-of-living crisis continues to bite, opportunists are increasingly looking to make a few dollars to cover rent, mortgage, or put food on the table. The financial squeeze and more accessible tools to commit fraud create a lethal combination — and with the average cost of a data breach in the UK being £3.3 million, businesses need to ensure cybersecurity remains a high priority during these trying times.

As we look to the year ahead, cybersecurity threats and opportunities will continue to grow — but where should organizations focus their efforts? We look at the top four considerations that should be on every security leader’s checklist in 2024.

AI bridges the cyber skills gap

One of the greatest challenges organizations face is the skills gap. This has been growing for some time and is especially prevalent in cybersecurity. 50% of all UK businesses have a basic cybersecurity skills gap, meaning they’re unable to perform some of the most basic cybersecurity tasks, and there is an estimated shortfall of 11,200 people to meet the demand of the cyber workforce. Under-skilled and understaffed cyber security teams make it nearly impossible for companies to effectively defend themselves.

Moving into 2024, AI could offer a solution by lowering the barrier of entry for cybersecurity roles. Once we build more trust in GenAI in the cyber community, this tech can help to overcome the breadth and complexity of cybersecurity tools and open roles up to a wider talent pool. CISOs and security leaders can focus on seek out individuals who are curious and good communicators rather than seeking out individuals with specific technical expertise. For example, being able to ask AI if something is normal for the environment and what actions they should take in each scenario nearly eliminates the technical nuances of security tools while also allowing businesses to train AI on internal procedures. AI can even help write tools and scripts, such as GitHub’s Copilot tool, allowing for individuals to tap into their creative power without needing the technical expertise to deliver it. Again, your imagination is your only limitation with the general availability of GenAI.

However, businesses must remain vigilant. While this tech will lower the barrier of entry for industry professionals, it will do the same for cybercriminals. We already have services such as ransomware-as-a-service which lower the barrier of entry for scammers who no longer need to figure out how to make their own tools to bypass various EDR and AV technologies. Instead, their job is simply to get someone to click on a link. In 2024, businesses must be even more prepared for criminals to keep pace with their own AI advancements. Attackers have already begun releasing various purpose-built GPTs like WormGPT, FraudGPT, and WolfGPT. These tools are enabling attackers to quickly and easily write malware, ransomware, phishing emails, phishing sites, discover vulnerabilities, and much more.

DDoS and Ransomware attacks reach a new level of maturity

Another challenge for companies is the continuing growth, frequency, and evolution of DDoS attacks. Stories of ransomware are commonplace in the news — take the recent MGM attack as an example, crippling a large organization for over a week and costing the world-renowned casino over $100 million. We’ve also seen a string of ransomware attacks against our healthcare system causing over a dozen hospitals to redirect ambulances to other, likely more distant, emergency rooms. The size of these cyberattacks continues to grow, with Google now reporting its largest DDoS attack to date, peaking above 398 million rps. And if the big players are struggling to keep up, then the threat landscape is set to be an issue for businesses of any size in 2024.

This growth is driven by a change in technique. In the past, attackers targeted comprised IoT devices, but now hackers are better resourced and can even buy and utilise cloud providers. Cybercriminals are using servers to run layer 7 or HTTP layer DDoS attacks, using compromised web applications to get a foot in the door. Then, they can move laterally, taking over servers, hijacking machines, and planting malware that is getting even more devious.

In 2024, businesses should expect to continue to ramp up defenses against ransomware attacks that don’t just lock up data, but exfiltrate it and hold it ransom. Reputations are on the line even for reporting these events. Attackers are weaponizing the SEC to file formal complaints should a victim fail to report the event. They should also look to upskill employees in social engineering and spotting phishing attacks to reduce points of entry.

Building a security-first culture becomes non-negotiable

Traditionally there has been a top-down approach to cybersecurity. The CISO will choose a security strategy, create a plan, and often focus on governance. Although this is a vital element of any cybersecurity strategy, it has pigeonholed businesses into a certain security posture and often created a division between security and the rest of the business. What’s more, cybersecurity is often considered a bolt-on to existing digital infrastructure. As attacks have become more sophisticated, this can no longer be the case, and upholding the security of business and customer data is a continual process that requires constant attention.

In 2024, businesses need to shift their mindset and consider security more as bottom-up than top-down. CISOs need to incorporate security into the fabric of their company’s culture and look at their software development life cycle through that lens. By incorporating security into every stage of the process and every role, it becomes part of company culture rather than an afterthought. CISOs must engrain themselves further into the business and help to build out processes that drive security rather than pressing down on governance and policy.

Going further, businesses should find every opportunity they can to talk about the security industry using security trends along with timely and relevant compromises. Headlines are full of great content to share with your employees. The challenge with traditional user awareness programs is they’re impersonal, monotonous, and lacking in timeliness and relevance to individuals’ roles. What if you instead spoke to your company monthly about what’s really going on in the world of cybersecurity and how they could better protect themselves, their families, and the business?

In 2024, we must insert security into every conversation to ensure that operations and strategy are up to par.

AI drives zero-day attacks 

Another type of cyberattack that is gaining momentum is zero-day attacks. Recently, attacker-side source code has been leveraging AI to pick out vulnerabilities, especially with open-source products. For instance, if an attacker can get a hold of source code of a widely used application or operating system and run it through AI that’s focused on identifying buffer overflows and other vulnerabilities, it is going to identify 0-days a thousand times faster than a human could.

Going into 2024, businesses should continue to prioritize and patch but should expect zero days to grow by building out a Critical Patch Management process. While businesses have gotten better at patch and vulnerability management, attackers have been leveraging more zero-day vulnerabilities to combat these good processes. But even with these effective programs, exploitation of public-facing applications remains the top entry point (21.2%) for attackers according the Mandiants M-Trends report. Even though the attackers may have less low-hanging fruit, they continue to get creative — and with the ability to scan source code with AI, these threats will only increase further. On the other side of this coin, in 2024, we will start to see defensive solutions that leverage AI to nearly automate the entire process, from identification to bug-fix enabling businesses to keep in step with these actors.

As we stand at the crossroads of an ever-evolving digital landscape, the role of cybersecurity in safeguarding our interconnected world cannot be overstated. Our adversaries are not only sophisticated but relentless, constantly looking for methods to improve. In this high-stakes game, AI emerges as a double-edged sword, offering unparalleled potential for both defense and offense. As we harness AI to predict, pre-empt, and respond to cyber threats, we must also be vigilant against its misuse by adversaries. The future of cybersecurity is not just about building stronger walls; it’s about fostering a culture of security that contemplates the security implications in every aspect of the business, from finance to HR to engineering.

Ultimately, security is a team sport. The only way to effectively fight this war is as a team while leveraging the same capabilities as our enemies. Technology is evolving at lightning speeds leaving defenders behind to catch up. By working together as a cohesive team, sharing knowledge, and staying ahead of technological advancements, we can create a digital ecosystem that is not just resilient but also trustworthy. The war against cyber threats is ongoing, and victory lies in our collective effort to outpace, outsmart, and outmaneuver those who seek to undermine our digital security.