Threat predictions for 2012: The hits and misses

Despite taking the safe road by predicting that threats for 2012 would be a lot like those of 2011, the CyberEye still managed to only bat about .500.

“It’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.”

That quote has been attributed to everyone from Mark Twain to physicist Niels Bohr and baseball great Yogi Berra, but its uncertain origin doesn’t make it any less true. So I took the easy way out in last year’s predictions of coming trends in cybersecurity, saying that 2012 would be a lot like 2011.

“Popular technologies that came to the fore in 2011 will continue to be the targets for choice in the coming year,” I wrote. “It is a classic case of, ‘If you build it, they will come.’”
 
Despite giving myself this softball pitch, I still managed to bat only about .500 for the year. Which really isn’t too bad, either for baseball or prognostication.

To be honest, however, I should give the credit — where any is due — to my sources. Here is how things played out in spotting the pain points for 2012:

Bring your own device

I’ll give myself a hit on this one. The migration of increasingly powerful mobile devices into the workplace was a major concern for administrators who had to find ways to manage and secure the devices and control access to sensitive resources. Malware for the devices continued to grow, especially for Androids, and even legitimate applications have proved to be leaky, buggy and grabby.

It should be noted, however, that mobile devices still have not become the platform of choice for delivering attacks to the enterprise or stealing sensitive information in bulk lots. Like network administrators, the bad guys still are figuring out how to effectively manage and make the most use of these devices. Still, the risk has to be taken seriously.

Social networking

Another hit. Social networking has proved to be a double-edged sword, becoming an important medium for business communication and at the same time providing a rich source of data for social engineering and misinformation.

It is no surprise that increasingly popular sites have become tools for phishing attacks and launching malicious code. The risks do not seem to have outweighed the perceived advantages yet, as organizations constantly look for ways to use social channels, focusing their concerns on making them more effective rather than more secure. Getting more attention than the malicious use of the sites are the privacy policies of the companies running them.

The cloud

This one was neither a hit nor a miss -- more of a foul ball. Over the past year, cloud services have proved no more or no less secure than other platforms. Cloud computing is a hot business opportunity in government, but both providers and customers seem to be cautious enough about the security of the services that it has not become a major issue.

But with several high-profile service outages by major cloud service providers in the last two years, reliability has emerged as more of an issue than security. Google suffered a brief outage in October, but Amazon was the worst hit (or the biggest offender) with three outages of its Web Services in 2011 and 2012. Most recently, its Northern Virginia data center in Ashburn was knocked out by severe weather in June and then again because of an equipment failure in October.

Planning for outages and data backup are as important as security when moving critical operations or services to the cloud.

IPv6

This was a miss. Not that the exhaustion of new IPv4 address space and the switch to the next generation of Internet Protocols wasn’t a big story in 2012. But the volume of IPv6 traffic has remained so small, even as federal agencies and major online organizations enable it, that it still has not emerged as a security problem.

The risks remain, of course. It is difficult to say whether security tools for IPv6 are operating at parity with IPv4 tools, and as the volume of IPv6 traffic inevitably grows this will be an issue. There is also the chance that largely unmanaged IPv6 traffic could be used as a channel for slipping past traditional defenses. But so far these issues have not created large problems.

Current Events

This one seems to be a miss as well. The threat was that 2012's high-profile events -- such as the London Olympics and the U.S. presidential election -- would be used to ensnare victims with phishing attacks and search engine poisoning. Some of this did happen, but it didn’t seem to be any worse than any other year.

All in all, a so-so set of predictions for 2012. What will 2013 bring? No one can say. But that won’t stop us. Stay tuned.

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