This year's Manchester IP Expo saw a number eye-opening keynotes, delivered by some of the the world’s best-placed cybersecurity professionals. Spanning April 25-26, the Expo featured over 100 expert exhibitors, along with a wide range of topical security discussions and Q&A sessions. Put simply, it’s an enterprise IT event that brings everything together under one roof.

We caught the opening, and perhaps most significant, keynote of the day - which was delivered by Robert Hannigan, former Director of GCHQ - the world's leading cybersecurity agency.

He kicked things off by identifying the five most likely sources a modern day cyber attack can come from: individuals, hacktivists, insiders, competitors and cyber terrorism. Honing in specifically on cyber terrorism, Hannigan believes it is now a "much more sophisticated, mature and growing threat".

Robert Hannigan, former Director of GCHQ, delivering his keynote on April 25, Manchester IP Expo 2018.

He went on to explain how many tech savvy young people are now finding new ways to learn about hacking, and are driven by a wide range of motives: “some simply see online destruction as a tantalizing prospect, an ‘act of mischief’ if you will. Others pursue it on a higher level, seeing it as a way to supplement their studies or, more worryingly, a full-time career ambition.”

Hanigan highlighted that, not only is this threat different than the ‘stereotypical hacker’ image perpetuated by the media, but it presents a problem that is “disproportionally disruptive”. Afterall, many of these cybercriminals are younger than the vulnerability that they are exploiting (he references the 17 year-old boy who hacked TalkTalk in 2016).

Cyber terrorism: a growing concern for organizations?

The problem with cyber terrorism, Robert highlights, is “when intent eventually (rather inevitably) meets capability. A growing problem globally is the increase in state sponsored terrorism. When these hackers are given the necessary resources, this poses a very serious threat for many organizations. These attacks then become more about making money, rather than mindless destruction. There are business models put in place, logic, motive, and far more sophisticated methods of making an attack.”

Turning his attention to the dark web, he explained how it presents an “unprecedented opportunity for cybercriminals to source all kinds of necessary tools to commit an attack”. He continued, “there is a gig economy and commodity market of their own when it comes to making such acquisitions - with ransomware and tutorials being as freely accessible as an item you might buy from Amazon.”

So what now for cybersecurity?

From his vast experience in cybersecurity, Hannigan explained how he’s seen a shift in targets over recent years: “as the financial services sector are more hardened to attacks, criminals are now more inclined to pursue smaller businesses, family offices and wealthy individuals. Of course we’ve also been witness to some major healthcare breaches in the past twelve months (NHS WannaCry) - as other industries are finally starting to realise the importance of securing their networks and data”.

Hannigan noted that spear phishing attacks are now far more advanced - as they are becoming socially engineered by criminals who have more access than ever to an individual’s personal circles and interests. This allows them to target the soft underbelly of the private sector.

Fantasy or Reality? Could your confidential boardroom meetings be listened to by hackers in the near future?

He also believes that some kind of regulation needs putting in place when it comes to the use of IoT (Internet of Things) devices within an organization - as they will pose a significant threat in the not too distant future, with microphone, camera and speech detection all becoming increasingly accessible tools for hackers to exploit.

Citing the Equifax and Uber breaches, Hannigan concluded by highlighting how “getting the basics right can still prevent 80-90% of threats.” Fittingly, this correlates with Avecto’s most recent Microsoft Vulnerabilities Report, highlighting that 88% of Microsoft’s Critical vulnerabilities over the past five years could have been mitigated simply by removing local admin rights.

He said it is crucial that organizations not only wake up to these threats but, once detected, deal with them appropriately (something which Uber didn’t do, he added).

The importance of a multi-layered defence cannot be stressed enough: start by getting the basics right (managing user privileges, educating employees, protecting trusted applications), and you will find that security doesn’t have to compromise usability and productivity.

About Avecto

Avecto Defendpoint’s best-in-class privilege management and application control makes admin rights removal simple and scalable across desktops and servers to ensure compliance, security, and efficiency. It deploys in hours, flexibly elevates privileges, and decreases support calls. End users enjoy the safety of standard accounts with the flexibility of admin accounts.

About Robert Hannigan

Robert Hannigan CMG is a senior British civil servant who previously served as the Director of the signals intelligence and cryptography agency at the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). He announced his resignation as Director on 23 January 2017.