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4 Trends paving the way for the future of cybersecurity

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Around three and a half decades ago, the world witnessed its first major security attack with Morris Worm. This event led to the birth of the very first Computer Emergency Response Team, marking a significant milestone in cybersecurity history.

As we reflect on the progress of incident response, we find ourselves on the brink of another transformative shift in the tech landscape. The future of cybersecurity, particularly for vulnerable businesses in South Africa, has become a prominent topic of discussion, especially with the emergence of AI capabilities.

In this new era of cybersecurity, four key trends will shape the security discourse.

Ransomware is becoming more sophisticated

Africa – and South Africa – have always been a prime target for malware and ransomware attacks, these occurrences are increasing in number and sophistication. In fact, Interpol’s Africa Cyberthreat Assessment report found that South Africa leads the continent in the number of cybersecurity threats identified and that it also has the highest targeted ransomware and business email compromise (BEC) attempts.

Recent Microsoft-IDC research on Enterprise Security Trends shows that the growing number of ransomware attacks is among the top three security priorities for South African organizations, with 45 percent identifying protection against harmful ransomware and malware attacks as a key focus area.

Moving forward, hackers will continue to use these tried-and-tested techniques, but will also make use of AI to enhance the speed and accuracy of attacks.

Smarter workplace provides hackers with new entryways to networks

South African organizations have made significant changes to their cybersecurity strategies to accommodate the growing number of remote

users that need access to mission-critical data and applications. The Microsoft-IDC research reveals that organizations are placing the bulk of their focus on endpoint security and access management solutions, with 65% already invested in endpoint protection solutions and 61% in access management.

But while IT teams have been preoccupied with remote work, largely perceiving ransomware as an IT-focused threat, these attacks have become more prevalent in operational technology (OT) environments – including everything from industrial equipment to HVAC controllers and elevators.

Microsoft’s threat intelligence has revealed an increase in threats exploiting OT controllers and IoT devices like routers, printers, and cameras, driven largely by hybrid workplaces and the growing interconnectivity among organizations.

The IT world is increasingly being brought together with the OT world, introducing new and severe risks, with attackers now able to jump between formerly physically isolated systems. Suddenly everything from cameras to smart conference rooms is providing hackers with new entryways into workspaces and other IT systems.

AI is becoming more mainstream

AI and machine learning are arriving in technology’s mainstream. The Microsoft-IDC research shows that around 39 percent of companies in South Africa plan to address security concerns by improving the automation of processes and the integration of technologies.

And while there has long been a perception that attackers – even those using age-old techniques – have the advantage of surprise, AI can swing the agility pendulum back in favor of defenders.

Al empowers defenders to see, classify and contextualize much more information, much faster. Its radical capabilities and speed give defenders the ability to deny attackers their agility advantage

The growing skills gap will become less challenging

AI also enables human defenders to operate more quickly and efficiently. This is key for IT teams across the region, given the growing skills gap among security professionals. Around 53 percent in South Africa identified upskilling as a vital step to increase the level of security in their organization, according to Microsoft-IDC research. 

Automated and intelligent tools empower security professionals to focus on security strategy and culture rather than sitting behind a computer watching and managing incoming signals that indicate attacks or zero-day vulnerabilities. The more teams can use AI to provide clear views of cyber threats, the more they can open the door for entry-level talent while also freeing highly skilled defenders to focus on bigger challenges.

AI is a new area for defenders, and as organizations increasingly develop new AI systems, they need to understand how these systems can be breached, and how attackers can leverage AI systems to carry out attacks. This is where innovative new tools like Microsoft Counterfit can play a pivotal role in helping security teams conduct AI security risk assessments and think through such attacks.

Though Al won’t be the silver bullet that solves security in 2023, it is the turning point for rapid acceleration in protecting against bad actors. Businesses simply cannot afford to underestimate the way AI innovation over the next few years will impact the security industry in South Africa.

by Colin Erasmus, Chief Operations Officer at Microsoft South Africa

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