Emerging threats: AI, deepfakes and cybercrime-as-a-service

May 31, 2024



Rob Pocock, Technology Director, Red Helix discusses everything artificial intelligence, deepfakes and cybercrime-as-a-service.

It is no secret that cyber threats evolve in tandem with technological advances, as new tools provide criminals with the means to enact increasingly sophisticated attacks.

Recently, alongside the emergence of new threats, we have started to see a growing trend of modern technology being used to augment existing tactics.

From the integration of artificial intelligence to the unsettling realism of deepfakes, cyber criminals are leveraging cutting-edge technology to substantially enhance the potential of their attacks.

This shifting landscape is further complicated by the emergence of Cybercrime-as-a-Service (CaaS) models and the widespread adoption of the Internet of Things (IoT).

Both trends add layers of complexity and risk to an already intricate digital ecosystem.

Organisations now find themselves at a critical juncture, facing the urgent need to adapt and strengthen their defences.

As innovative solutions continue to serve legitimate businesses and malicious actors alike, it has never been more important for companies to review their security, fill any gaps and ensure they are prepared for the ever-more advanced attacks on the horizon.

Existing threats reinvented Social engineering attacks are by far the most common threat, with around 98% of all cyber attacks involving social engineering in one way or another.

Whether it be phishing, smishing, whaling or baiting, the aim is to deceive an employee into making a security mistake, handing over money, or giving away sensitive information and network access.

Fortunately, this type of threat was often quite easy to spot.

Spelling mistakes, typos and grammatical errors – along with dodgy looking URLs and email addresses – were all typical red flags that staff could be trained to look out for.

Now, however, that is rapidly changing.

AI tools are being utilised by threat actors to increase both the sophistication and frequency of social engineering attacks, automating the creation of immensely deceptive communications devoid of the normal warnings signs.

Additionally, we are witnessing a rise in hyper-realistic deepfake videos and audios, further blurring the lines between genuine and malicious.

Not only is this providing criminals with the ability to craft highly personalised and credible scams at scale, but the increased access of automation tools has also fuelled the rise in CaaS.

Criminal organisations are leveraging this technology to offer cyber attack capabilities to those without the technical know-how, often on a subscription basis, further increasing the volume of threats.

The proliferation of the IoT further compounds these risks.

With the number of connected devices projected to reach 30 billion by 2025, the attack surface is expanding dramatically, providing more potential entry points for hackers.

These devices often lack robust security, leading half of all IT leaders to believe that the IoT is the weakest part of their security efforts.

While none of these threats are new, they are becoming far more difficult to manage.

Similarly, addressing these enhanced risks doesn’t necessarily require new types of security tools, but it does demand a more concentrated focus on refining and implementing existing defence mechanisms.

A refined focus on security

To protect themselves against evolving threats, businesses need to take a holistic, multi-layered approach to security (often referred to as ‘defence in depth’).

This strategy involves layering multiple security measures to protect different aspects of the IT infrastructure, thereby minimising the impact of any single point of failure; as if one layer of defence fails, there are additional measures behind it.

For this approach to work, however, businesses must ensure security teams and solutions are fully integrated.

Breaking down any silos in their security environment will ensure a timely and unified response to threats, as well as facilitating the sharing of vital security data – which is essential for proactive defence.

Increasing the frequency and methods used in security testing is another step that can help to strengthen defences.

While penetration tests are immensely valuable, they work in a similar way as a car’s MOT, only providing insight into the efficacy of a security environment at the point in time in which the test was carried out.

Breach and Attack Simulation (BAS), on the other hand, is effectively a full-time test of how a company’s security infrastructure stands up against new and existing malware, vulnerabilities and misconfigurations.

Using both together provides further depth and frequency in security testing and can mitigate the chance of vulnerabilities arising from new threats and changes to network and security infrastructure.

Another tactic to enhance security is the repatriation of cloud-based services.

By relocating certain functions and data storage back in-house, companies gain greater control and oversight over security measures.

This doesn’t mean abandoning cloud solutions entirely, but rather strategically assessing which operations might be more safely managed on-premises, based on their sensitivity and risk assessment.

Finally, the importance of regular cyber awareness training for all employees cannot be overstated.

Human error continues to be a major vulnerability and with cyber criminals increasingly using sophisticated technology to conduct social engineering attacks, empowering employees to recognise and report suspicious activities is crucial.

An upgraded approach to emerging threats

The advancement of technology is a double-edged sword, offering increased efficiency and innovation, but also introducing new vulnerabilities and risk.

As criminals continue to augment their capabilities, organisations must also refine and enhance their cyber defence strategies.

This can take many forms, such as the strengthening of integration between security tools and IT teams, the reassessment of cloud services, and a ramping up of the frequency and variety of security tests.

Additionally, a proactive, multi-layered security approach and ongoing cyber awareness education for all employees have become non-negotiables, proving crucial in safeguarding businesses against the evolving capabilities of cyber criminals.

Ultimately, businesses need to foster a culture of continuous improvement and resilience, so they can navigate these emerging challenges more effectively and secure their digital assets.

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