John Hultquist, vice president of intelligence analysis at Google-owned cybersecurity firm Mandiant, likens his job to studying criminal minds through a soda straw. He monitors cyberthreat groups in real time on the dark web, watching what amounts to a free market of criminal innovation ebb and flow.
Groups buy and sell services, and one hot idea — a business model for a crime — can take off quickly when people realize that it works to do damage or to get people to pay. Last year, it was ransomware, as criminal hacking groups figured out how to shut down servers through what’s called directed denial of service attacks. But 2022, say experts, may have marked an inflection point due to the rapid proliferation of IoT (Internet of Things) devices.
Attacks are evolving from those that shut down computers or stole data, to include those that could more directly wreak havoc on everyday life. IoT devices can be the entry points for attacks on parts of countries’ critical infrastructure, like electrical grids or pipelines, or they can be the specific targets of criminals, as in the case of cars or medical devices that contain software.
“What I wish is that the vulnerabilities of cybersecurity could never negatively affect human life and infrastructure,” says Meredith Schnur, cyber brokerage leader for US & Canada at Marsh & McLennan, which insures large companies against cyberattacks. “Everything else is just business.”