Digital economy risks being derailed by next generation cyber threats

Cyber security was a key area of interest in the past year with the increased frequency of cyber breaches and onslaught of ransomware attacks against governments, corporations and consumers worldwide.

In the last 12 months, cyber criminals have discernibly become bolder, with attacks increasing in volume and sophistication.

The WannaCry and NotPetya ransomware outbreaks in 2017 foreshadow the massive disruptions and impact possible in our near future, resulting in financial losses and disruption of commercial services.

This is just the start. Cybercriminals are adopting the latest advances in areas such as artificial intelligence (AI) to create more effective attacks. 

Building from the foundation and successes of the last two years, Fortinet believes that new cyber threats will be more dangerous and pernicious – becoming more intelligent, able to operate autonomously, and increasingly difficult to detect.

This also comes at a time when the digital footprint of companies and individuals is expanding rapidly.

As we move into 2018, Fortinet predicts several destructive trends that will impact states, businesses and critical infrastructures:

Smarter Threats Will Target IoT and Cloud Connected Devices

The proliferation of online devices accessing personal and financial information, and the growing connection and interconnection of everything – from Internet of Things (IoT) devices and critical infrastructure in homes and offices to the rise of smart cities – will create new disruptive opportunities for cybercriminals It is inevitable that IoT devices will be targeted. By 2020, over 20 billion IoT devices will go online, compared to a billion PCs. 

We will see IoT exploitation techniques evolve to include password stealing, and then leveraging these passwords to hack additional systems.

These attacks will not only come at users faster, but also reduce the time between the breach and impact to our network ecosystem.
As the number of IoT devices grow, the weakest link lies in the millions of remote devices accessing the cloud. If the cloud-based environments and solutions that businesses are now adopting are suddenly found to be untrustworthy, it could radically affect their migration to the cloud and unravel their plans to go digital.

Ransom of Commercial Services is Big Business

The severity of ransomware threats has already grown 35 times over the last year with ransomworms – malware that combines ransomware and computer worms – becoming more prevalent. 

Ransomware’s next big target in 2018 is likely to be cloud service providers and other commercial services.

A single point of failure within the cloud provider’s network can have devastating impact for businesses, government entities and critical

Cybercriminals will seize the opportunity to integrate AI technologies with advanced cyber attack methods to scan for, detect, and exploit
weaknesses in a cloud provider’s environment. 

The impact of such attacks could create a massive payday for a criminal organisation and disrupt entire businesses and their customers.

Critical Infrastructure to the Forefront

In the face of growing and more sophisticated cyber threats, the networks of critical infrastructure providers, which protect vital services and information, are becoming high value targets. 

The expectation for these providers to respond at digital speeds to consumer demands is changing the requirements of their networks,
driving the need for advanced security on networks that were originally designed to operate in isolation. 

In 2017, the entire National Health Services (NHS) in the United Kingdom, for instance, was crippled by the WannaCry ransomware
that affected all their systems including telephones and forced the cancellation of all surgeries and medical appointments. Over 300,000
computers globally were impacted by the same ransomware virus, spread just by e-mail1.

Given the importance of these networks, and the potential for devastating results if they are compromised or knocked offline. 


Next-gen Morphic Malware

Expect to see malware completely created by machines based on automated vulnerability detection and complex data analysis. 

Although polymorphic malware (viruses, worms, Trojans or spyware that constantly changes) is not new, it is about to take on a new face by leveraging AI to create sophisticated new code that can learn to evade detection through machine written routines. 

Malware is already able to use learning models to evade security, and can produce more than a million virus variations in a day. 

The Cybercrime Economy Will Use Automation to Offer New Services 

As the world of cybercrime evolves, so does the dark web. We expect to see cybercriminals start to provide ‘crime-as-a-service’ offerings using new automation technology. 

Advanced services are already being offered on dark web marketplaces that leverage machine learning (where computers learn without being programmed). 

For example, a service known as FUD (Fully Undetectable) allows criminal developers to upload attack code and malware to an analysis service for a fee. 

The encrypted data looks like random noise and cannot be detected by anti-viruses when a scan is performed. We will see more machine learning used to modify code on the fly, based on how and what has been detected to make these cybercrime tools even more undetectable.


As we move towards a digital economy in 2018, more connected devices are being woven into an increasingly complex ecosystem of data, devices, applications, and services that businesses and individuals are becoming more dependent on. 

This is leading to a rise in the number of attacks that are designed to target and exploit this phenomenon. 

We are now witnessing the new generation of these attacks; with much more sophisticated tools and automated exploits. The digital economy is transforming how we conduct business with change moving at an unprecedented pace. 

Slamming the brakes during this critical transition can be devastating. 

About Fortinet

Fortinet is a global leader in high-performance cybersecurity solutions.

The predictions in this article are derived from Fortinet’s global security research team, FortiGuard Labs composed of over 200 skilled researchers, analysts, programmers and reverse engineers tasked with outsmarting the cybercriminals and delivering cutting-edge protection tools to our global customers, assuring some of the fastest response times in the industry to new vulnerabilities, attacks, viruses, botnets, and other threats; as well as providing accurate, detailed, rapid and actionable intelligence against the never-ending torrent of malicious activity online. 

The trends reveal the methods and strategies that cybercriminals will employ in the near future and demonstrate the potential impact of cyberattacks to the global economy threat landscape for 2018.