Jan 5, 2024 - Technology

Hackers expected to double down on trusted tactics in 2024

Illustration of an infinite, recursive tunnel of laptops.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

The year ahead will likely bring on a bout of déjà vu for cyber defenders still recovering from 2023's onslaught of attacks, experts tell Axios.

The big picture: Cyberattacks last year came at a fast pace, reached a vast scale, and had a growing sophistication, Wendi Whitmore, senior vice president of Palo Alto Networks' threat intelligence team, tells Axios.

  • Malicious hackers will likely spend the next year doubling down on those themes, Whitmore says — with help from generative AI.

Between the lines: Many of the hacking techniques that defined 2023 will also define 2024.

  • Data leaks appear to have risen exponentially in 2023, and cybercriminals got better at exploiting critical vulnerabilities before companies discovered them, Luke McNamara, deputy chief analyst at Google Cloud's Mandiant, tells Axios.
  • In 2023, hackers' attacks also demonstrated a deep understanding of how businesses work and the ways they operate with third-party suppliers, and all that will inform future incidents, Whitmore adds.

What they're saying: "There's nothing magical about the calendar switching over to Jan. 1 where the adversary all of a sudden adopts new tactics," McNamara says.

  • "We don't see these sort of massive sea-change events every year or even every couple of years."

What we're watching: Experts tell Axios they expect to see continued mass-exploitation of critical security flaws, widespread data theft at companies, and targeting of endpoint technologies, like internet routers, in 2024.

  • Social engineering — where hackers lean heavily on their social skills to dupe victims into sharing passwords or other key information — will also continue to be a top hacking tactic this year.
  • "We probably will be talking about, to a large degree, some of the same challenges, and it's not because organizations aren't taking these trends seriously," Whitmore says. "Offense is always going to have an upper hand over defense, especially when new technology comes out."

Zoom out: 2024 has more touchstone global events that hackers might try to target, including elections around the world and the 2024 Summer Olympics.

Yes, but: Companies are getting better at understanding how to defend their networks, Scott Small, director of cyber threat intelligence at Tidal Cyber, tells Axios.

  • The problem is that hackers adapt to these defenses at a faster pace than organizations can keep up, Small says.
  • "Implementing even the quote-unquote basics is no longer very easy in a lot of large distributed, tech-enabled enterprises," he says. "There's just too massive of a technological attack surface, as well as human attack surface."

The intrigue: The U.S. is facing a shortage of cyber workers — leaving many companies short-staffed while facing an ever-growing threat landscape.

  • The country currently has only enough workers to fill 72% of the available cybersecurity jobs, according to data from CyberSeek.

Be smart: Basic cyber hygiene can still go a long way to keeping hackers out of a company's networks, experts say.

  • Companies should also prioritize securing so-called initial attack vectors — or places where hackers are likely to break into companies — such as login credentials, email inboxes and internet connectivity tools, McNamara says.
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