As 2018 comes to a close, Digital Shadows partnered with the FBI’s Cyber Division for a webinar to discuss some of the cyber security threats and trends we might see in 2019. I joined the FBI for this webinar and want to share my key takeaways from our discussion. Feel free to watch the recording here or check out our 2019 cyber security forecasts blog here.

 1. Data breaches to continue and companies will be fined for it

The fines coming from the E.U.’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) legislation are going to be doled out throughout 2019, which also means there will be a lot more reporting of these breaches in mainstream media outlets. However, if companies are transparent with GDPR investigators then it could net them a reduced fine, as seen with German chat platform Knuddels. Companies are having a hard time managing their online exposure between internally-held data and those provided to third-party suppliers. Digital Shadows published research around the various types of exposure points in our Too Much Information paper, highlighting the sheer scale of unintentional exposure through online file sharing services.

German chat platform, Knuddels, breached data

Figure 1: German chat platform, Knuddels, breached data

 2. Nation-state Advanced Persistent Threats will remain…persistent!

Nation-state sponsored advanced persistent threat (APT) groups are going to continue targeting private and public institutions; this much is almost guaranteed. However, it’s more nuanced than just conducting espionage and stealing information. Suspected North Korean-state sponsored APT groups have been targeting financial institutions with the goal of stealing money to fund their economy since at least 2016. Chinese APT groups have been reported stealing intellectual property from several organizations over the years with the ultimate goal of using this information to build products supporting their economy as well.

One recent driver is the ongoing tariffs being issued between the United States and China, a geopolitical flashpoint which continues to escalate despite a “truce” being in place. With indictments of Chinese intelligence officials (one of which was extradited to the U.S.), arrests of Chinese company executives (read Huawei’s CFO) and the ongoing threats of more tariffs, tensions are high between the two countries, and they are unlikely to be relaxed for quite a while.

Indictments of Chinese intelligence officials

Figure 2: Indictments of Chinese intelligence officials

3. New types of identity theft on the rise

Synthetic identity theft is suspected to rise in the new year. This updated type of identity theft involves attackers creating a new identity using information from a victim. The difference here is that they modify the identity, so credit reporting agencies have to create “subfiles” for the new accounts, which make them look more legitimate, and therefore more useful to criminals. This type of activity could wreak havoc once tax return time comes around.

4. Business Email Compromise (BEC) could eclipse $1 billion in 2019

Business Email Compromise (BEC) is a topic that Digital Shadows has covered extensively throughout 2018. By taking control of an executive’s email address, attackers can masquerade as a senior employee, issuing time-sensitive requests to various parts of an organization. This may be a wire transfer (financial) or data transfer (sensitive company information) request. The amount of losses in the United States alone, according to the FBI, are staggering: $375 million in 2016, $675 million in 2017, and an estimated $1 billion in 2018. 2019 is likely to experience the same high amounts of fraud, and the barriers to entry for these attacks continue to drop, as we highlighted in our report, Cybercriminals on the Outlook for Your Emails, earlier this year.

5. Ransomware to continue encrypting systems and extorting money

As ransomware variants continue to evolve, they are likely to continue targeting businesses that rely on availability of services. Several stories from 2018 could have impacts on the state of ransomware in 2019. The more targeted attacks carried out by SamSam and GandCrab, the indictment of SamSam operators, and the possible decline in ransomware delivered via email are just some of the factors that may affect 2019 trends.

Ransomware continues to be prominent in the news headlines

Figure 3: Ransomware continues to be prominent in the news headlines


The FBI maintains national and global partnerships with public and private industries and can bring the full weight of the entire U.S. intelligence community when conducting investigations. In our webinar, the FBI provided some tips on ways to be prepared when responding to a potential incident or attack. These are:

  • Follow your company’s emergency plan and start protecting your data
  • Call your local FBI field office
  • Either preserve the original media as evidence or make a forensic image
  • Conduct internal analysis from a copy rather than original (if possible)
  • Gather all pertinent log files including DNS, firewall, proxy, system event logs, etc. Contact ISP for possibility of additional logs.
  • Conduct damage assessment including damage valuation

All of this information can be extremely helpful for the people who may investigate an attack against a company. Additionally, if you wish to file a direct complaint online, visit the Internet Crime Complaint Center.

Again, if you want to check out the full recording of the webinar, have a listen here. Happy Holidays!


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