Advanced Persistent Threats in 2021: Kaspersky Researchers Predict New Threat Angles and Attack Strategies to Come

WOBURN, Mass.–([1])–Kaspersky[2] researchers have shared predictions related to Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs) in 2021, forecasting how the landscape of targeted attacks will change in the year ahead. The turmoil of 2020 will lead to many structural and strategic changes in the realm of targeted attacks, particularly due to a newly-broadened attack surface. New attack vectors, such as the targeting of network appliances and the search for 5G vulnerabilities, will happen alongside multi-stage attacks, as well as positive actions against activities enabling cyberattacks, such as zero-day sales.

The forecast was developed based on changes that Kaspersky’s Global Research and Analysis Team (GReAT) witnessed during 2020 and is being published to support the cybersecurity community with guidelines and insights. These have been created to help prepare for the challenges that lie ahead.

APT threat actors will buy initial network access from cybercriminals

One of the key, and potentially most dangerous, trends that Kaspersky researchers anticipate is the change in threat actors’ approach to the execution of attacks. Last year, targeted ransomware attacks reached a new level through the use of generic malware as a means to get an initial foothold in targeted networks. Connections between these attacks and well-established underground networks such as Genesis, which typically trade in stolen credentials, were observed. Kaspersky researchers believe that APT actors will start using the same method to compromise their targets.

As a result, organizations should pay increased attention to generic malware and perform basic incident response activities on each compromised computer to ensure that generic malware has not been used as a means of deploying more sophisticated threats.

Other targeted threat predictions for 2021 include:

  • More countries using legal indictments as part of their cyber strategy. Kaspersky’s previous predictions of “naming and shaming” of APT attacks carried out by hostile parties has come true, and more organizations will follow suit. Exposing toolsets of APT groups carried out at the governmental level will drive more states to do the same, thereby hurting actors’ activities and developments by burning the existing toolsets of their opponents in an effort to retaliate.
  • More Silicon Valley companies will take action against zero-day brokers. Following scandalous cases in which zero-day vulnerabilities in popular apps were exploited for espionage on a variety of different targets, more Silicon Valley corporations are likely to take a stance against zero-day brokers in an effort to protect their customers and reputation.
  • Increased targeting of network appliances. With remote work, organizational security has become a priority, and more interest in exploiting network appliances such as VPN gateways will emerge. Harvesting credentials to access corporate VPNs via “vishing” remote workers may also appear.
  • Demanding money with menace. Ransomware gangs have become more targeted in their attacks and have more often threatened to release stolen data. Following the success of these strategies, the groups will use the money they have extorted to invest significant funds into new advanced toolsets with budgets comparable to that of some state-sponsored APT groups. These changes in strategy may also lead to the consolidation of the ransomware ecosystem.
  • More disruption will result from direct, orchestrated attacks designed to affect critical infrastructure or cause collateral damage, as our lives have become even more dependent on technology with a much wider attack surface than ever before.
  • The emergence of 5G vulnerabilities. As adoption of this technology increases, and more devices become dependent on the connectivity it provides, attackers will have a greater incentive to look for vulnerabilities that they can exploit.
  • Attackers will continue to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic. While it did not prompt changes in tactics, techniques and procedures of the threat actors, the virus has become a persistent topic of interest. As the pandemic will continue into 2021, threat actors will not stop exploiting this topic to gain a foothold in target systems.

“We live in the world that is so mercurial that it is likely that events and processes will happen in the future that we have not been able to grasp just yet,” said David Emm, principal security researcher at Kaspersky. “The amount and complexity of changes we have witnessed that have affected the cyberthreat environment could dictate many scenarios for what is to come ahead. Furthermore, there are no threat research teams in the world that have full visibility of the operations of APT threat actors. Yes, the world is a chaotic place, but our previous experience shows that we have been able to anticipate many APT developments before, and hence prepare for them better. We will continue to follow this path, understanding the tactics and methods behind APT campaigns and activities, sharing the insights we learn and evaluating the impact these targeted campaigns have. What matters here is to follow the situation closely and always be ready to react, and we are confident in doing so.”

The APT predictions have been developed thanks to Kaspersky’s threat intelligence services used around the world. On November 19, Kaspersky’s GReAT researchers are also sharing their predictions for upcoming changes in the world of major threat actors in 2021, taking a look back at 2020 and discussing this with the audience. Register for the webinar here:[3]

The full version of Kaspersky Threat Predictions for 2021 is available on[4]

These predictions are a part of Kaspersky Security Bulletin (KSB) – an annual series of predictions and analytical articles on key changes in the world of cybersecurity. Click here[5] to look at other KSB pieces.

To look back at what Kaspersky experts expected to see in the advanced targeted threats landscape in 2020, please read our previous yearly report[6].

About Kaspersky

Kaspersky is a global cybersecurity company founded in 1997. Kaspersky’s deep threat intelligence and security expertise is constantly transforming into innovative security solutions and services to protect businesses, critical infrastructure, governments and consumers around the globe. The company’s comprehensive security portfolio includes leading endpoint protection and a number of specialized security solutions and services to fight sophisticated and evolving digital threats. Over 400 million users are protected by Kaspersky technologies and we help 250,000 corporate clients protect what matters most to them. Learn more at[7].

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