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2022 Cyber Predictions: Ransomware, hacking eSports, and COVID cleanup


In many ways, 2021 felt like an extra dose of 2020. Bright spots like COVID vaccines aside, most of us simply put our heads down and plowed ahead as the hits just kept coming.

Responses to COVID accelerated digital transformation by as much as seven years, adding new tools and process automation to the security burden. Companies reversed plans to return to the office, so we had to keep our eyes on the risks of remote work. With the Great Resignation accelerating the war for talent, employee satisfaction drove new workplace technology requirements.

Security teams spent the year reacting to these fluid conditions by patching together solutions. It was a sprint to keep the business running. And it was a mess.

The rush to transform left some big security holes—excessive access rights, shadow IT, and cloud misconfigurations. Meanwhile, ransomware skyrocketed. The Solar Winds and Colonial Pipeline attacks highlighted how interconnected and vulnerable we all are, with major dependencies on supply chains.

Cyber predictions for 2022

What does all that mean for the road ahead? I’ve got a few predictions. I’ve listed them below in order of “most definite” to “unlikely, but possible.”

People will demand consumer-grade usability from workplace tools, or they won’t use them

One thing we know for sure: the attack surface will continue to explode. Remote employees, plus a growing gig economy of third parties, will result in more people logging into digital resources with privileged credentials through many more channels. Every user becomes a privileged user.

I think it’s very likely that security tools will become easier to use. We’re going to see a continuing tide of resignations and new employees who must be trained in cyber hygiene—and fast. People will demand the same consumer-grade usability from workplace tools that they’ve come to expect from Netflix and Amazon, or they simply won’t use them and will find ways to work around them.

Meanwhile, ransomware mitigation will become imperative. It’s a safe bet that the ransomware networks that grew during the pandemic will get smarter and stronger. In the new year, cybercriminals will become even more specialized, focused on different channels, platforms, languages, and elements of the attack chain. And they’ll teach others.

The world’s top cybercriminals have already begun streaming their hacking skills online, showing off new techniques to bypass security, get the initial foothold, and elevate privilege. Perhaps 2022 will take hackathons and gamification to the next level with “hacking e-sports.”

In the worst-case scenario, we could face an all-out cyberwar, as cybercriminals are expected to target critical infrastructure. Governments may finally decide they can no longer stand by and watch their citizens and businesses fall victim to cyberattacks. A potential cyber treaty could change the dynamics of the cyberscape, impact regulations, and make cybercrime fighting more complex.

Get your 2022 cybersecurity plan together

So, those “temporary” solutions you cobbled together quickly? They’re going to need a sturdier foundation that is built to flex.

Small and mid-sized organizations must make security investments

Put another way, we can’t just ask, “how can we speed up a process?” We must ask, “How can we keep the process safe?” Even for remote employees and third parties. Even with new workplace tools and multi-cloud environments. Even as cybercriminals flourish.

Cyber skills and resources can’t be the domain of larger enterprises. Small and mid-sized organizations must make security investments to operate successfully in this new world.

Based on these predictions, below are some cyber resolutions to add to your 2022 list:

Privileged identity will join privileged access as a top priority

For most organizations, identity is one of the artifacts they can still control, unlike core business processes that often operate in someone else’s application and infrastructure. Therefore, more and more access policy enforcement will be focused on identity. Identity-centered security will become a digital polygraph test to verify people are who they say they are before enabling authorization to resources. Identity security will be enforced at multiple interaction points – not just when access is granted, but when it is approved, elevated, or updated in any way.

The Zero Trust mindset will become the norm

For years, the hype around zero trust has led to a lot of confusion. Vendors have jumped on the bandwagon by claiming to provide “zero trust” solutions, when in fact, zero trust isn’t something you can buy. Zero trust is a mindset on how you operate your business with security as a priority. It’s all about how you practice security.

With the Biden administration’s Executive Order on Zero Trust, we’ve finally gotten to a place where security leaders understand that zero trust is a security model requiring you to verify everyone and everything before you grant any trust. By making Zero Trust your goal in 2022, you can never eliminate risk entirely, but you can contain the damage.

Cyber strategies will be managed as an ecosystem of specialists

When cybercriminals are becoming more specialized, it’s virtually impossible for a team of security generalists to use a broad set of tools to combat them. To compete, you’ll need to select best-of-breed solutions for different types of security goals and layer them for defense-in-depth strategies. Security adoption and effectiveness will be based on how well various security tools integrate and work in tandem to reduce risk.

Looking forward to 2022

The bottom line is that 2022 is the year for focus and getting the basics right. Security teams can’t continue to react to new business requirements with the same strategies. We need a mindset and toolset that anticipates dangers and increases our resilience in the face of change.

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