Examining the Rise of Cyber Threats to US Companies

Cybersecurity | April 5, 2024

The cost of a data breach is measured in the millions of dollars in 2024. How long will it be until it is measured by the billion, instead?

Your understanding of threats to US companies must evolve as rapidly as the technology around you. It’s no longer about physical assets: The real treasure troves lie within virtual vaults of information and systems that keep them secure.

No business is safe in the 2020s. No institution is safe. But you can be prepared.

Let’s dive into the changing landscape of cyber threats and explore how they’re reshaping the American corporate world.

Cybersecurity Threats Throughout the Ages

Cybersecurity threats are at the forefront of every business leader’s mind.

They evolve faster than a pandemic. It’s essential to recognize that it’s not just the methods that change, but the motives: Over time, cybercriminals have shifted away from mere “mischief” to form groups and networks intent on exploiting vulnerabilities for calculated, profit-driven incentives.

Sensitive information is bought and sold on the black market or held for ransom. But how did we get here?

Throughout the 1990s, the internet quickly grew from the chic novelty domain to encompass and encapsulate the globe. Nobody knew how serious, how far-reaching, and how universal cybersecurity threats would become. The role of the “hacker” shifted from a cult B-movie protagonist to one integral in everybody’s daily lives.

In the beginning, “black” and “grey” hat hacker cultures clustered around hacking for clout. As time went on, hacking became a political tool for subversion and a criminal tool to turn eye-watering profits.

Ransomware, for instance, rose concurrently with the explosion of cryptocurrencies: As Bitcoin skyrocketed in value, it gained widespread acceptance as a legitimate form of payment payment. From the mid-2010s onward, it was valued in the hundreds and thousands of dollars.

Ransomware followed suit. Seemingly overnight, it had become possible to extort large sums of money from individuals and businesses desperate to regain control over their data.

The 21st century is the information age. Data holds immense, hidden value, the implications of which even tech giants are barely able to understand with the rise of AI. The threats have grown — and are growing — more complex.

The stakes are growing higher. And the need for robust security measures is more pressing than ever before.

The Rise of Cyber Threats in the 21st Century

As the world grew more interconnected at the turn of the century, the cybersecurity risk grew. Sources vary, but in the year 2000, between 350 and 450 million people had access to the internet.

By 2020, that figure had risen by more than 1000% — and the number of IoT (Internet of Things) devices connected greatly exceeds that figure still.

The core problem is that, as companies find themselves increasingly exposed to a global network, hackers have found an entire medley of ways to exploit vulnerabilities. It takes only a single breach in security to allow a tidal wave to seep through.

Take the infamous Solar Winds hack of 2020 as an example, in which a seemingly innocuous software update resulted in (suspected) state-sponsored malware spreading throughout US federal institutions.

Understanding cybersecurity threats isn’t just a technical concern, but a business one. Breaches carry devastating financial implications and can harm company reputations irrevocably.

Collaborative Approaches to Security

In the face of an overwhelming number of avenues and methods of attack, collaboration is the solution.

Internally, departments must understand protocols and adhere to them. It’s not just a matter for IT departments; every employee with access to your networks can be either a weak link in the chain or a line of defense.

Externally, sharing information about breaches can help others prepare for the worst. Industry groups and governments alike often facilitate such exchanges of information, creating a united front against threats.

This collaboration extends to the tools used to protect sensitive information, too. Many companies rely on third-party security firms to provide additional expertise.

The Impact of AI

In the words of Randy Bachman, “You ain’t seen nothing, yet.”

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been a game-changer across many fields. Yet its potential is only beginning to be recognized. Whether that potential is used for good or for ill is, in large part, up to state-level actors and institutions.

And, while the EU’s risk-based AI Act seeks to deploy AI technologies in ways that mitigate risks and prevent abuse, other legislatures are slow on the uptake, relying more heavily on market-based regulation.

On the one hand, the deployment of AI in cybersecurity is driving the development of new security tools. But, no matter the regulation, the impact of AI won’t be solely positive. Criminal hacking groups exploit the tools at hand for profit, while hostile states seek to undermine democratic institutions in the West.

What we’re witnessing is a seismic shift in the landscape of cybersecurity.

A cautious approach is a wise approach. AI systems are, after all, only as good as the data they’re trained on. Biased or incomplete data can lead to gaps in protection.

Moreover, AI can be manipulated: If a threat actor understands how an AI system works, they can craft attacks designed specifically to evade detection.

Overall, AI’s implications on security are profound. The technology offers great promise, but it also requires a new level of vigilance to ensure that the systems designed to protect you do not become your Achilles’ heel.

The Amorphous Face of Cyber Threats

Cyber threats are always on the move.

Like shadows, they shift and adapt in response to the light you cast upon them. The strategies used yesterday may not work today; those you use today may be redundant tomorrow.

Information is critical in such an environment. You must dedicate resources toward understanding the evolving tactics of cybercriminals and adjust your security accordingly. It’s an ongoing battle that never ends.

Understanding the Impact

The impact of a cybersecurity threat — such as a data breach, phishing attack, or ransomware attack — extends beyond the immediate destruction left behind.

A data breach can lead to a loss of sensitive information, financial penalties, and damages to reputation. Whatever the cause, these incidents erode the customer trust that takes years to build.

And it’s happening constantly: In the first half of 2023, more than 600 million people had been impacted by a data breach. The largest loss of sensitive information occurred in a single Twitter hack, seeing more than 200 million people’s data stolen.

The true cost can be difficult to quantify — but one thing is certain: The impact is far-reaching and can be the difference between a thriving company and one that struggles to stay alive.

Vulnerable Industries

Some industries are more vulnerable to cyber threats due to the nature of the information they handle. Financial institutions, healthcare providers, and retailers are prime targets.

They deal with mountains of sensitive data. Such industries face not only the threat of economic loss but also regulatory scrutiny. Laws like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) in healthcare set stringent requirements for data protection.

Severe penalties are often levied for non-compliance.

Mitigating Risks in the Present

Protecting against cybersecurity risks begins with a robust security infrastructure. This includes firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and regular security audits — usually by a third party.

Employees are the other side of the coin. Regular employee training is critical to keep staff aware of the cybersecurity threat and to know how to recognize and respond to potential attacks.

However, sometimes the worst does happen. A clear critical response plan is essential for such cases. In the event of a breach, employees must know who to notify, how to contain a threat, and how to communicate with stakeholders to mitigate the fallout.

Guarding Against the Unseen Threats to US Companies

Dealing with cyber risks means expecting the unexpected.

It involves defending against known threats — but also preparing for new ones that have yet to emerge from the woodwork. Fundamentally, this requires a culture of security-aware employees. Everybody must understand that a breach can come from anywhere, and every employee must observe company protocols with regard to sensitive data.

Regularly updating systems and enforcing strict access controls are both equally vital. Similarly, disciplinary measures for employee malpractice should exist, particularly for large-scale organizations employing dozens or hundreds of people.

But, perhaps most importantly, guarding against the threats of tomorrow involves a lot of forward-thinking. Investing in innovative research and staying informed and aware of the latest threats to hit the headlines — or rather, the ones that don’t — are crucial steps to protect stakeholders, investors, and reputations.

The Urgency of Planning Ahead

In an interconnected world, the potential for damage is ever-present and immense. Threats to US companies are relentless, and the pace of change is breakneck.

Your approach must be proactive: The time to act is now — before you become the industry’s next cautionary tale.

Empist is a full-service tech company that can work with you to provide comprehensive, multifaceted solutions to your IT and cybersecurity needs. With more than two decades of experience under our belt, we provide full-stack development, web design, cloud services, and more to our catalog of satisfied customers. Don’t hesitate to reach out today.

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