Threat predictions for 2024: Chained AI and CaaS ops give attackers ‘easy’ buttons

By relying on the growing capabilities in their respective toolboxes, cybercriminals will increase the sophistication of their activities 

WITH the growth of Cybercrime-as-a-Service (CaaS) operations and the advent of generative artificial intelligence (AI), threat actors have more “easy” buttons at their fingertips to assist with carrying out attacks than ever before. 

By relying on the growing capabilities in their respective toolboxes, adversaries will increase the sophistication of their activities. They’ll launch more targeted and stealthier hacks designed to evade robust security controls, as well as become more agile by making each tactic in the attack cycle more efficient. 

In our 2024 threat predictions report, our FortiGuard Labs team looks at a new era of advanced cyber-crime, examines how AI is changing the (attack) game, shares fresh threat trends to watch for this year and beyond, and offers advice on how organisations everywhere can enhance their collective resilience against an evolving threat landscape. 

The Evolution of Old Favourites

We’ve been observing and discussing many fan-favourite attack tactics for years and covered these topics in past reports. The “classics” aren’t going away — instead, they’re evolving and advancing as attackers gain access to new resources. 

For example, when it comes to advanced persistent cybercrime, we anticipate more activity among a growing number of advanced persistent threat (APT) groups. In addition to the evolution of APT operations, we predict that cybercrime groups, in general, will diversify their targets and playbooks, focusing on more sophisticated and disruptive attacks, and setting their sights on denial of service and extortion. Cybercrime “turf wars” continue, with multiple attack groups homing in on the same targets and deploying ransomware variants, often within 24 hours or less. In fact, we’ve observed such a rise in this type of activity that the FBI issued a warning to organisations about it earlier this year.

And let’s not forget about the evolution of generative AI. This weaponisation of AI is adding fuel to an already raging fire, giving attackers an easy means of enhancing many stages of their attacks. As we’ve predicted in the past, we’re seeing cybercriminals increasingly use AI to support malicious activities in new ways, ranging from thwarting the detection of social engineering to mimicking human behaviour. 

Fresh Threat Trends 

While cybercriminals will always rely on tried-and-true tactics and techniques to achieve a quick payday, today’s attackers now have a growing number of tools available to them to assist with attack execution. As cybercrime evolves, we anticipate seeing several fresh trends emerge in 2024 and beyond. Here’s a glimpse of what we expect. 

Next-level playbooks: Over the past few years, ransomware attacks worldwide have skyrocketed, making every organisation, regardless of size or industry, a target. Yet, as an increasing number of cyber criminals launch ransomware attacks to attain a lucrative payday, cybercrime groups are quickly exhausting smaller, easier-to-hack targets. Looking ahead, we predict attackers will take “go big or go home” approach, with adversaries turning their focus to critical industries — such as healthcare, finance, transport and utilities — that if hacked, would have a sizeable adverse impact on society and make for a more substantial payday for the attacker. They’ll also expand their playbooks, making their activities more personal, aggressive, and destructive in nature. 

It’s a new day for zero days: As organisations expand the number of platforms, applications and technologies they rely on for daily business operations, cybercriminals have unique opportunities to uncover and exploit software vulnerabilities. We’ve observed a record number of zero days and new Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVEs) emerge in 2023, and that count is still rising. Given how valuable zero days can be for attackers, we expect to see zero-day brokers — cybercrime groups selling zero days on the dark web to multiple buyers — emerge among the CaaS community. N-days will continue to pose significant risks for organisations as well. 

Playing the inside game: Many organisations are levelling up their security controls and adopting new technologies and processes to strengthen their defences. These enhanced controls make it more difficult for attackers to infiltrate a network externally, so cyber criminals must find new ways to reach their targets. Given this shift, we predict that attackers will continue to shift left with their tactics, reconnaissance and weaponisation, with groups beginning to recruit from inside target organisations for initial access purposes. 

Ushering in “we the people” attacks: Looking ahead, we expect to see attackers take advantage of more geopolitical happenings and event-driven opportunities, such as the 2024 US elections and the Paris 2024 games. While adversaries have always targeted major events, cybercriminals now have new tools at their disposal — generative AI in particular — to support their activities. 

Narrowing the TTP playing field: Attackers will inevitably continue to expand the collection of tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) they use to compromise their targets. Yet defenders can gain an advantage by finding ways to disrupt those activities. While most of the day-to-day work done by cyber security defenders is related to blocking indicators of compromise, there’s great value in taking a closer look at the TTPs attackers regularly use, which will help narrow the playing field and find potential “choke points on the chess board”. 

Making space for more 5G attacks: With access to an ever-increasing array of connected technologies, cyber criminals will inevitably find new opportunities for compromise. With more devices coming online every day, we anticipate that cybercriminals will take greater advantage of connected attacks in the future. A successful attack against 5G infrastructure could easily disrupt critical industries such as oil and gas (O&G), transport, public safety, finance and healthcare. 

Navigating a New Era of Cybercrime

Cybercrime impacts everyone, and the ramifications of a breach are often far-reaching. However, threat actors don’t have to have the upper hand. Our security community can take many actions to better anticipate cyber criminals’ next moves and disrupt their activities: Collaborating across the public and private sectors to share threat intelligence, adopting standardised measures for incident reporting and more. 

Organisations also have a vital role to play in disrupting cyber-crime. This starts with creating a culture of cyber resilience — making cyber security everyone’s job — by implementing ongoing initiatives such as enterprise-wide cyber security education programmes and more focused activities like tabletop exercises for executives. Finding ways to shrink the cybersecurity skills gap, such as tapping into new talent pools to fill open roles, can help enterprises navigate the combination of overworked IT and security staff as well as the growing threat landscape. And threat sharing will only become more important in the future, as this will help enable the quick mobilisation of protections. 

  • Derek Manky is the global VP threat intelligence at cybersecurity company Fortinet. 

  • This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition