5 cybersecurity trends to watch for in 2016, part 1

Commentary: The proliferation of APT tools, data manipulation, a Darwinian shake-out in the IT security market and other fun cyber stuff to look forward to next year.

This commentary is the first of a three-part series featuring what cybersecurity thought leaders expect to see in the coming year.

This past year marked a strategic shift from a maniacal focus on prevention, toward greater balance on monitoring, detection and response capabilities. Indeed, it became a cliché to say that breaches are inevitable and that faster detection and more accurate incident scoping are the way forward.

2015 also saw continued acceleration of threat evolution. What was considered an “advanced” threat in years past has become a commodity today, with sophisticated malware and exploits available for the price of a movie ticket.

As troublesome as these observations seem, the most impactful kind of evolution has gone almost entirely unreported and misunderstood. The threats that matter most, today’s pervasive threat actors are now conducting attack campaigns composed of multiple exploit methods and multiple backdoors to assure persistence. Incomplete incident scoping has become a critical mistake repeatedly made by security teams.


This year was also notably characterized by security vendors claiming to be able to prevent advanced threat breaches when the reality is, they can’t. It was characterized by organizations recognizing the need to monitor and defend their digital environments differently, but continuing to center their security programs on the same technologies and approaches they have been using — not acting differently, but hoping for a different outcome, nonetheless.

Here are some of the emerging trends that our industry and organizations need to be ready for in 2016:

Strategic data manipulation and disruption

Organizations will begin to realize that not only is their data being accessed inappropriately, but that it is being tampered with. Data drives decision-making for people and computer systems. When that data is unknowingly manipulated, those decisions will be made based on false data. Consider the potentially devastating consequences of misrepresented data on the mixing of compounds, control systems and manufacturing processes.

[Read more: 5 cybersecurity trends to watch for in 2016, part 2]


Increasing attacks on application service providers

As organizations become more comfortable with the “as a service” model, more of their most sensitive applications and data reside in the cloud. The aggregation of this valuable data from many companies is creating an incredibly lucrative target for cybercriminals and cyber espionage. A deeper appreciation of third party risk is needed.

Hacktivism and the attack surface

As cyberattack tools and services become increasingly commoditized, the cost of attacking an organization is dropping dramatically, enabling more attacks that do not have financial gain as the primary focus. Sophisticated hacktivist collectives like Anonymous have been joined by relatively unsophisticated groups, or even individual cyber vigilantes. Organizations need to realize that financial gain is no longer the only nor even perhaps the biggest driver of their adversaries. Security operations and risk managers should evolve their understanding not only of the threat, but also of what, why, where and how they are being targeted.

Industrial control systems pushed to the breaking point


Intrusions into systems that control operations in the chemical, electrical, water and transport sectors have increased 17-fold over the last three years. The advent of connected and automated sensors aggressively exacerbates these issues. The growth in the use of cyber technology by terrorists, hacktivists and other actors, combined with the weakness of ICS security generally, combined with the potential impact of bringing down a power facility or water treatment plant (hello, California), makes the critical breach of an ICS in 2016 extremely concerning and increasingly likely.

Shake-out of the security industry

Our industry has been awash in venture capital and as a result, foolish investments have been made in strategies and technologies that are little more than snake oil. As organizations’ security programs continue to mature, they are learning that claims of being able to prevent advanced threat breaches are nothing more than fantasy. Expect to see a shake-out in the security industry as organizations’ maturing understanding of advanced threats increasingly drives their investment decisions in this area.

Amit Yoran is the president of RSA. Follow him on Twitter at @ayoran and the company at @RSASecurity.

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