For many, the New Year is a chance to rest, restart our internal clocks and get a fresh start in the coming months. Unfortunately, cybercriminals never take a break. If anything, their attacks and the tools they use become increasingly sophisticated with every passing year.
2018 will be no exception, and there's plenty to watch out for if you spend any amount of time on the internet this coming year.
1. Traditional viruses
One of the oldest threats to modern computing, viruses aren't nearly as prevalent or as damaging as they used to be. Antivirus programs have nipped most of these problems in the bud, but there's enough of them that users need to remain cautious.
According to Symantec, the developer of one of the most prominent antivirus programs available today, some of the most common viruses seen between late 2017 and early 2018 include Spoofrand, Zealot, Truebot, CVE-2018-0797, Zezin and others.
2. Next-gen malware and ransomware
Malicious software is slowly replacing the traditional computer virus as the most common threat to the average Internet user.
With the ability to disguise malicious apps and services as completely different programs, or even embed malicious codes into legitimate files, online criminals can impact more systems than ever before. They're even holding entire computers hostage by disturbing new programs that are collectively known as ransomware.
Numerous forms of ransomware entered the public spotlight in 2017, including WannaCry, Petya, NotPetya and more. Although the overall number of incidents is shrinking, these and similar viruses will remain active throughout 2018.
3. Mobile connectivity
Some smartphone and laptop users aren't even aware of the cyber threats they face on a day-to-day basis. Malicious software, including spyware, is starting to migrate onto mobile platforms.
Next-gen botnets can take over your device and infect others or engage in fraudulent activities — all without your knowledge.
Even dead or outdated software can pose threats to the security of your mobile devices. To minimize the chances, make sure to remove any unused programs or apps from your device on a regular basis.
4. Independent software
Independent software packages, including bundled programs and individual apps from unknown publishers, are often a prime method of delivery for viruses, malware and other cyber threats. Even if a developer doesn't intentionally include such malicious code, undetected infections in their system could be passed onto other users through their latest release or update.
In many cases, the cloud is actually more secure than in-house software. It's a good idea to backup any important or critical files to a remote server. Not only is cloud space more affordable than ever before, but it can help you safeguard your assets well into the 21st century.
5. Large-scale data breaches
Consumer data breaches are occurring at an alarming rate, and, unfortunately, there's little you can do about it. The brunt of the responsibility falls on the shoulders of public-serving companies that store sensitive personal info.
2017 was a particularly bad year for data breaches. With large-scale incidents reported by Yahoo, Equifax, the Republican National Convention and many more, it seems nobody is safe from the reach of modern hackers. While the breaches noted above have all received patches by now, new ones are bound to appear in 2018.
6. DDoS attacks
Something that is unfamiliar to many mainstream computer users, the distributed denial of service, or DDoS, attack has the potential to shut down everything from popular websites to government infrastructure around the globe. The FCC was a recent target of these attacks, and some fear that critical systems within the United States government could be next.
More than 2,000 DDoS attacks occur on a daily basis around the world, and there's no sign that they're slowing down. There are four common types of attacks, each of which uses different elements of an online connection to flood the system with more requests than it can handle. As a result, poorly defended websites and networks have no other choice but to shut down completely.
7. AI hacks
Artificial intelligence – AI – gained a lot of momentum in 2017. The increased exploration and development of intelligent computer systems is expected to continue in 2018, but hackers are already using the technology as a new avenue for cyberattacks.
While there isn't any hard evidence that a sophisticated or concerted AI hack exists at this time, the potential is certainly real. It's a hot topic among cybersecurity experts, and they're already making moves to mitigate the risks — but it's only a matter of time until an AI-driven hack occurs.
8. Fraudulent activities
Internet users are still susceptible to outright fraud. Whereas hackers once focused on transaction-based fraud, many are transitioning to the niche of online travel booking. With some datasets containing information like passport numbers, credit card numbers, home addresses and personal contact information, these documents are a goldmine for identity thieves.
Companies are quickly moving to patch any obvious holes or flaws in their systems. But as noted by Si-Yeon Kim, chief risk and compliance officer with American Express Global Business Travel, online criminals will always evolve, adapt and re-focus their attacks.
Keeping your virtual eyes open in 2018
The next few years are exciting times for potential hackers and identity thieves. As more uninformed consumers embrace the Internet, mobile devices and Wi-Fi connectivity, criminals will find more targets than ever before.
Remaining aware of the threats and maintaining diligence is your first line of defense, but the battle is anything but straightforward.