2018 Was a Big Year for Cybercrime, But 2019 Could Be Worse

After another explosive year of cybercriminal activity, experts predict that 2019 could be even worse.

Cybercrime is flourishing. The Ponemon Institute has estimated that over one in four organizations are at risk of suffering a data breach. As it stands, the average cost of a company-directed attack is over $21 million. 2018 saw some of the largest cyberattacks in history directed at major corporations like Facebook, British Airways, and Ticketmaster.

It’s become clear that most enterprises simply aren’t doing enough to protect user data and proprietary information. With the rollout of new legislation intended to protect consumers (i.e. GDPR), companies have more responsibility (and financial incentive) than ever to make sure their networks are adequately secured. At the same time, cyberattacks are becoming more frequent, and more sophisticated.

We’re reviewing the worst cyberattacks that took place in 2018. In all cases, extremely sensitive information was exposed, and in all cases, these companies could have been better prepared — in 2019, they’ll likely need to be.

1. Facebook

In March, it was revealed that British consulting firm Cambridge Analytica had been collecting the data of 87 million Facebook users without their permission since 2015. Just a few months later, Facebook announced that the personal information of 50 million users had been exposed after hackers identified a vulnerability that allowed them to access the platform’s “View As” privacy tool. In total, the social media titan suffered at least three known data breaches in 2018.

Lewis Henderson, VP of Threat Intelligence at Glasswall Solutions, argues that the incidents “demonstrate Facebook’s infrastructure was probably never designed to cope with this many subscribers. It simply doesn’t have security built in, nor has Facebook taken those companies who exploit subscriber data through a robust third-party security process.”

2. Marriott

In November the hotel group Marriott claimed it had suffered a major cyberattack — dating as far back as 2014 — in which the personal information of up to 500 million customers was stolen. Affected customer records included names, addresses, contact and payment information, and passport numbers.

In the fallout, Marriott is facing a series of major class action lawsuits which claim that user data was not adequately encrypted.

3. Exactis

In June, Florida-based marketing and data aggregation firm Exactis admitted that they had suffered a data breach. After leaving a large database completely unprotected on a public server, 340 million records were compromised.

Exactis stores up to 400 data points per individual, including physical addresses, email addresses, phone numbers, and religious affiliations. Affected users suffered threats of fraud, identity theft, and more. Exactis is facing a national class action lawsuit.

4. British Airways

In the final days of 2018, hackers were discovered to have been targeting British Airways using a tactic known as “skimming” — which may involve any number of advanced phishing-type techniques to steal credit card information. In this case, hackers inserted a small script to “skim” the airline’s payment page before bookings were submitted. As a result, some 380,000 booking transactions were accessed.

According to Outpost24 CSO Martin Jartelius, the cyberattack may have earned hackers upwards of $12 million. Experts believe that British Airways stock will likely suffer as a result, and the company could be subject to penalties as high as £800 million under GDPR law.

5. Ticketmaster

Jodi Torras, CEO of the AI firm Inbenta — which developed code for ticket retailer and distributor Ticketmaster — revealed that a piece of script had been inserted into the retailer’s payment page without their knowledge. It is believed that the group behind this breach, Magecart, may be the same one responsible for the British Airways cyberattack.

Torras explained, “Had we known that the customized script was being used this way, we would have advised against it, as it incurs greater risk for vulnerability.”

Though only 40,000 users saw their information compromised, the hack resulted in real damage. Many Ticketmaster customers reported fraud or claimed their data had appeared for sale on the dark web.

Protecting Against Cyberattacks in 2019

While 2018 was a record year for cybercriminal activity, industry insiders believe 2019 could be even worse.

Skimming Attacks: Experts believe that credit card “skimming” operations like those seen in the British Airways and Ticketmaster data breaches are likely to grow in number and scale as hacking groups improve the methods by which they pinpoint weaknesses in enterprise networks. Head threat researcher at RiskIQ Yonathan Klijnsma argues, “Magecart groups will surely expand to skimming more than just payment data, such as login credentials and other sensitive information.”

Cryptojacking and Ransomware: Malware and viruses, which have traditionally accounted for the largest share of global cybercriminal activity, are expected to take a back seat to ransomware and cryptojacking attacks. Cryptojackers — cybercriminals that exploit users’ devices to mine cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum — are likewise expected to proliferate as blockchain currencies gain in popularity.

AI-Enabled Cyberattacks: Cybercriminals have only just begun to harness the power of AI for their nefarious purposes — a phenomenon that is likely to grow as AI tools become more powerful and more prevalent. At the same time, the growing use of AI in enterprise networks is opening up new attack vectors through fake video and audio phishing scams, corrupted AI network defenses, and more.

GDPR Bounty Hunting: In the wake of GDPR crackdowns, some experts believe a new form of attack will emerge: GDPR bounty hunting, wherein attackers could extort non-compliant companies by breaching them and demanding ransom with the threat of reporting them to the Information Commissioner’s Office.

Ultimately, it’s more evident than ever that cybercrime is on the rise — and presenting greater potential financial risks than ever. And unfortunately, there is no simple fix. Companies that recognize the untenable dangers of cybercrime will simply need to invest in more robust network security. If you’re ready to secure your network infrastructure, the wise choice is to partner with a leading enterprise network security provider like Turn-key Technologies.

With over three decades of experience and countless industry certifications, the professionals at Turn-key Technologies are ready and able to conduct a comprehensive network audit to identify potential network vulnerabilities and ensure that your enterprise is strategically protected against what is sure to be another big year for cybercrime.

By Tony Ridzyowski


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