23 Jan 2024
by Ivan Kinash

How to calm a fiery threat landscape

Guest blog by Ivan Kinash, CEO at Licel #NatSec2024

A bubbling pot

There’s a popular meme on social media of a chef adding one final punchy ingredient to an already-overflowing, boiling pan. He takes a step back, grimacing, as flames lick the side of the convulsing pot.

This meme is a pretty apt analogy for the addition of artificial intelligence to the cyber threat landscape. It’s fair to say that this mix doesn’t look auspicious for those of us who care about security.

Unfortunately, the more chaotic the digital landscape becomes, the more of a good time bad actors are likely to have there.

Locating some calm amidst the bubbling chaos is going to be a big challenge for all of us in 2024.

Multi-layered threats

The big question, then, is how can we go about finding some semblance of calm?

Here at Licel we’re convinced that 2024 will be the year that security has to step up to deal with the complicated layers of threats all of us now face. It’s worth remembering that attacks often aren’t all that easy to categorise. Take the following example:

Bad actors look to carry out a financial fraud attack by unleashing a particularly sophisticated form of malware. And they use social engineering techniques to get their victim to download the trojan onto their mobile device in the first place.

So, what kind of attack is this?

A financial fraud attack? A malware attack? A social engineering attack?

The answer is that it’s all of them. And it’s none of them.

This is the reality of the cyber threat landscape in the modern world. Stopping risks like this requires a holistic, proactive approach to security. As cybercriminals use multiple layers of interconnected attack methods, we must also use layers of security to counter them.

Mobile channel security

As an app security company, we’re now speaking with clients and prospects about the need to protect the whole mobile channel.

That means robust mobile application security that above all ensures the integrity of the application by stopping reverse engineering and tampering. This is achieved via app hardening (encryption, obfuscation, and virtualisation), runtime application self protection (RASP), communication hardening to prevent network attacks, and integrity checks.

But it also means utilising threat intelligence to open the curtains and better understand the attacks facing your home (your app) and the wider neighbourhood (your industry). This is vital not only in tracking trends and understanding how attacks are evolving, but also in proactively preventing those threats in the first place. A good threat intelligence solution will allow you, for example, to identify users who might be more at risk from malware attacks that exploit Android’s Accessibility Service feature.

And this brings us to another important aspect of protecting the whole mobile channel: education. Forward-thinking companies and app developers realise that one of the major advantages of threat intelligence is the ability to communicate emerging threats to their customers.

Let’s preach both tech and human protection

At the beginning of this article I mentioned that the addition of AI to the existing threat landscape has the potential to cause even more chaos.

What I was thinking of specifically was the ability of AI to make scams more convincing and more scalable. Gone are the days when phishing emails stood out for their grammatical errors. You might still find the odd reference to threats along the lines of “I’m UK government - pay me £10,000 or you’re under the rest” on social media, but the reality is that generative AI has changed the game.

Attackers can now ask their AI assistant to write in the style of a neo bank, for example. They can assign their AI assistant a role - say as a content marketing strategist with a decade’s experience of writing B2C communications.

That’s before we consider the potential impact of deep fakes and other sophisticated imitation attacks.

We don’t only see mobile channel security as a tech issue. We see it as a human issue. Cyber attacks are often psychological, after all - they target human emotions.

That’s why businesses should empower end users of apps with the knowledge and skills to safely navigate a digital sea teaming with dangers. But this in itself is a challenge as a decade and a half of social media and the smartphone has resulted in stunted attention spans (are you still reading at this point?) in a world full of noise.

Clarity is needed to break through this noise and provide users of apps with a reinforced foundation of understanding.

Then we can point them in the direction of the boiling pot and collectively get to work turning down the heat.

techUK’s National Security Week 2024 #NatSec2024

The National Security team are delighted to be hosting our annual National Security Week between Monday, 22 January 2024, and Friday, 26 January 2024.

Read all the insights here.

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techUK's National Security programme aims to lead debate on new and emerging technologies which present opportunities to strengthen UK national security, but also expose vulnerabilities which threaten it. Through a variety of market engagement and policy activities, it assesses the capability of these technologies against various national security threats, developing thought-leadership on topics such as procurement, innovation, diversity and skills.

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