Among the many challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 was an especially grueling year in terms of cybersecurity. In fact, some people talked about a “cyber pandemic” — a growth in attacks caused by the increased number of activities we started to do online, from shopping groceries to working remotely. By increasingly adopting cloud-based solutions to respect social distancing and stay-at-home orders, we multiplied the points of attacks and vulnerabilities.
But every cloud has its silver lining. In this case, executives from companies of all sizes started to finally understand that security has to be a priority at all times (especially during these highly-digital times). That’s why, for 2021, we can expect more investments from businesses across industries to develop software solutions that allow them to face the consequences of the pandemic and the new threats that appear on the horizon.
The convergence of both of those things (increased awareness of the need for cybersecurity and the sudden expansion of our lives into cyberspace) might turn 2021 into a landmark year. How come? Let’s check it out.
5G, IoT, and More Profound Changes
The massive migration of people and businesses to the cloud was just the beginning of a deep digitalization of our daily activities. In case you forgot, there’s another ongoing process that promises to further disrupt everything around us: 5G.
Though the pandemic somewhat disrupted the rollout of the fifth generation technology standard for broadband cellular networks at scale, the deployment of 5G is still underway. In fact, and though the Coronavirus has impacted its adoption, it’s expected that 54% of the share of mobile connections in North America will be powered by 5G by the end of 2021. In other words, you should be prepared to feel the impact of a more powerful mobile network.
That doesn’t just mean that you’ll enjoy faster mobile speeds with lower latency. It also means that 5G will keep laying the groundwork for the Internet of Things (IoT) to take over the country. Basically, 5G will provide the necessary infrastructure for IoT devices to become far more common (in fact, it’s expected that there will be 10.07 billion IoT-connected devices by the end of 2021).
The extension of 5G and the subsequent popularization of IoT devices will exponentially grow the number of potential targets for attack. Actually, some experts are saying that more connected devices will lead to a reemergence of Denial of Service (DoS) attacks and a spike in the number of ransomware attacks.
This is far from being an opinion. There are plenty of examples of attacks that have used IoT devices to get into a specific network or to ask for ransom money. Without the proper care, we can certainly expect that those attacks become some sort of normal occurrence. That’s especially true for industries that are prone to use IoT devices (with the manufacturing and healthcare industries as the main targets).
Does that mean that companies in niche industries can rest assured that they will be ignored by attackers? Unfortunately, no. One of the phenomena that will make itself evident during the advent of the IoT era is that no one will be exempted from potential attacks. Malicious agents are scaling in such a way that they can launch multiple attacks with different targets but with one objective in mind — breaching any vulnerability they can find.
This means that no industry or company (regardless of its size) is safe from suffering from potential attacks — if they have IoT devices without the proper protection, they will be attacked. That highlights the 2020 lesson we’ve mentioned before — cybersecurity should be among your top priorities today more than ever. 5G and the IoT will explode this year and it will make everything faster: from our ability to browse the web while on the go to criminals working on a more massive scale.
Artificial Intelligence as the Guardian Angel
It’s not all bad news for 2021. While attacks will become more widespread and sophisticated, so will be the digital solutions to prevent them. The key for that is the implementation of Artificial Intelligence (AI) throughout more security efforts. It’s true that using AI for cybersecurity isn’t precisely a novel thing but, as time passes by, the technology is becoming more accessible and more common all while finding new applications.
Thus, 2021 will bring better AI-based solutions to tackle the rising challenges of the new normal. AI won’t just be a dumb ally to sift through information to provide better insights. It will become a guardian angel of sorts that will be on the lookout for threats and that will do part of the job by “suggesting” courses of action early on for security teams to spring into action. That’s a step forward from what we have today, where AI only warns that something might be amiss and the human team has to find out what it’s all about and what they can do about it.
That new way of using AI in cybersecurity aligns with how businesses are starting to see AI. Gone are the hype days where everyone believed that AI was going to do everything a human could. Now, companies are understanding that AI isn’t a miraculous technology that can tackle anything but rather a valuable companion that can boost human efforts and help the workforce focus on the most important things while it deals with the menial and repetitive tasks.
A New Dawn for Cybersecurity
It’s impossible to understand the 2021 cybersecurity landscape without considering the triage formed by 5G, IoT, and AI. That’s mainly because we are starting to live in a world where technologies can’t be understood without considering the connections they make with other technologies.
That’s how the rise of 5G gives way to IoT (with a little help of AI, as well) which, in turn, opens the door for more attacks via the increased vulnerabilities in the network. Funnily enough, AI also provides the necessary tools to protect the multiple endpoints across vast systems, thus supercharging the ability of human teams to act when it’s truly necessary.
I could go on and on about the technologies but I think the most important thing for cybersecurity in 2021 will be a direct consequence of the massive tech changes of 2020. I’m talking about the realization of the importance of cybersecurity across the entire business world, which is now truly convinced that they have to invest whatever is needed to protect their resources, infrastructure, and the now-remote workforce.
That general reaction to the risks is something to feel very optimistic about because it can foster new dawn for cybersecurity, with increased collaboration between businesses, offshore software outsourcing companies, and organizations to strengthen the cybersecurity field a lot more. We’ll have to wait and see if my optimism is on point or way off but I think that 2021 will certainly be a landmark year because, as you surely suspect, no one wants to live through a pandemic again, be it cyber pandemic or not.