Agility has been described as one of the biggest assets that a company can posses in the future. The way companies are doing business is changing and agility will be needed to keep pace with an ever changing environment.

I recently read an article on enterpriseinnovation.net that discussed this issue in detail.

Key reorientation

The article points out that a paper published recently by The Economist Corporate Network (ECN) shows that, as AI reorients the nature of work, business leaders demand workers to tap into their more “human” talents and approach tasks with an open and global mindset.

The paper, sponsored by Hays and WeWork, is based on a survey and a number of focus group interviews with CEOs and other C-suite executives based in the Asia-Pacific region.

Dr Florian Kohlbacher, ECN Director for North Asia, told enterpriseinnovation.net that executives are increasingly witnessing a new type of graduate and employee. “The popularity of workspaces such as those offered by Google and Apple of the US are causing more and more corporates in Asia to offer a different kind of work environment and experience to remain competitive. The millennial generation is frequently prioritizing opportunities to train and upgrade their skill set over salaries. Companies therefore, must offer more learning opportunities to attract the right talent,” said Kohlbacher

Indeed, CEOs are aware of how AI and automation are affecting work spaces, and employees’ growing demand for flexible environments that reflect these changes and provide opportunities for constant learning.

Changing culture

The enterpriseinnovation.net article adds that the ability to dramatically change the culture of a company to thrive in a digitally competitive business environment, however, is one major challenge shared by CEOs. There is a huge amount of inertia in many large multinationals, and especially those with 100-year-old histories.

The senior executives in the Singapore focus group, for example, noted the importance of collaborating with government, academia and business including start-ups in order to build networks across the entire ecosystem.

In mainland China, the government is providing such supportive policy environment and financial support for industrial upgrading through automation, as well as for AI development. The speed and scale of mainland China’s adoption of digital systems is creating a sophisticated and omnipresent digital ecosystem that has made changes to lifestyles in ways that are often hard for overseas visitors to comprehend: from intellectual property issues to surveillance.

The article points out that a common theme that CEOs brought up in the focus group interviews was the increasing importance for collaboration across borders in a globalized business world, with many executives demanding employees who can work in multi-geographical, multi-cultural settings.

Across Japan and Hong Kong in particular, CEOs recognized that educational policy initiatives are lagging behind and a greater global collaboration and multi-stakeholder dialog is vital for both businesses and future employees.

The research also suggested that a growing number of CEOs are embracing the mantra of “adapt or die”.

With an increasing sense that changes brought about by the confluence of technologies over the past decade are fast-paced and inevitable, CEOs have changed their tack and now believe in an approach based on accelerating the arrival of AI and automation.

Changing approaches

The article points out that a large proportion of CEOs have changed their approach within the past year.

Of those surveyed in 2017, 58.1% stated that their approach was to soften the impact on work from automation and AI, while only 40.5% said that they preferred to accelerate the arrival of automation and AI to the workplace. In 2018, however, 64.7% of CEOs now believe in an approach based on accelerating their arrival, compared with only 35.3% of those who say that their approach is to soften the impact. The race to adopt and implement AI in business processes reflects such a shift in attitude.

The article adds that despite the growing need for data scientists to help devise strategies centred on new technologies, paradoxically, it is people and soft skills that will be the most important skills for the future. Of those surveyed, 46.2% rate people skills as extremely important, closely followed by soft skills, at 41%.

Meanwhile, hard skills remain one of the least valued by business leaders. Only 6.4% of CEOs think that hard skills are extremely important.

The report also noted a number of regional trends across Asia in relation to skills desired in the future workplace. A larger proportion (50%) of CEOs in both Singapore and South Korea think that business skills are extremely important. Furthermore,

70% of those surveyed in Japan, compared with only 25% in South Korea and 16.7% in Hong Kong, deem people skills as extremely important, suggesting cross-cultural differences depending on the business environment.

**Some key findings **

– Very few CEOs identify AI and automation as a threat towards their business. The vast majority, at 73.2%, view them as an opportunity, despite their lack of preparedness.

– 64.7% of CEOs now believe in an approach based on accelerating the arrival of AI and automation, compared with only 35.3% of those who prefer to soften the impact.

– People skills remain the most important skill for the future, even though data scientists are urgently needed to help to devise strategies centred on new technologies.

– Partnerships between governments, academia and businesses are a crucial element to thrive in a digitally competitive business environment.

The championship driver

One of the biggest driver of this agility is cyber crime and the growing influence that it is having on society, which enterpriseinnovation.net points out is profound.

The article points out that McAfee researchers expect malware-as-a-service families to strengthen, energizing the market for attack outsourcing and the evolution of increasingly innovative and agile attack methods.

As a result, corporate data, home IoT devices and brand reputations will be under siege, with cybercriminals largely using social media, the cloud and mobile phones as increasingly prominent attack vectors.

“In 2018, we witnessed even greater collaboration among cybercriminals through underground alliances,” Raj Samani, chief scientist at McAfee told enterpriseinnovation.net.

“This collaborative mentality has allowed for efficiencies in underground technologies and tactics, and the evolution of bad actors into some of the most organized and agile adversaries in the world. However, while we expect the underground market collaboration to continue, the year 2019 will also see cybersecurity alliances of defenders continuing to mature and further fortify defenses.”

The McAfee Labs 2019 Threats Predictions Report identifies rising trends and how they are predicted to change the cyberthreat landscape in 2019.

The enterpriseinnovation.net article adds that the report reflects the informed opinions of thought leaders from McAfee Labs, McAfee Advanced Threat Research, and members of McAfee’s Office of the CTO. It examines current trends in cybercrime and the evolution of IT, and anticipates what the future may hold for organizations, consumers, and those working to protect them.

Cyber attacks made simpler with easy access to technologies

The article points out that as security gets stronger, bad actors need to be increasingly inventive. The availability of modular attack components on the underground market is expected to enable attackers to combine and repurpose established tactics and technologies to achieve new goals.

  • Artificial Intelligence for Improved Evasion: The accessibility of technologies such as artificial intelligence-as-a-service will enable cybercriminals to develop cyberattacks with increasingly sophisticated evasion techniques. With artificial intelligence, cybercriminals will have the ability to automate target selection, scan for target network vulnerabilities, and assess the posture and responsiveness of infected environments to avoid detection before deploying later stages of attacks.
  • Nation-State Strategies Repurposed for Corporate Extortion: Bots used to amplify deceitful messaging have already been created and are available for sale on the cybercriminal underground. Following in the footsteps of recent infamous nation-state campaigns to sway public opinion, cybercriminals will likely repurpose bots and leverage social media to extort organizations by threatening their brands. The article adds that with access to increasingly effective tactics and strategies, bad actors will have the ability to focus their attacks on broader and more complicated targets. In 2019, cybercriminals are anticipated to target intellectual property, Internet of Things (IoT) in the home and identity credentials via the cloud, digital assistants, and social media platforms, respectively.
  • Data Exfiltration Attacks via the Cloud: McAfee foresees a significant increase in targeted attacks on the large amounts of corporate data now residing in the cloud. As much as 21% of the content now managed in the cloud contains sensitive materials such as intellectual property, customer and personal data. Possible scenarios include cloud-native attacks targeting weak APIs or ungoverned API endpoints, expanded reconnaissance and exfiltration of data in cloud databases, and leverage of the cloud as a springboard for cloud-native man-in-the-middle attacks to launch cryptojacking or ransomware attacks.
  • Home IoT Attacks via Smartphones, Tablets, and Routers: New mobile malware will likely investigate smartphones, tablets, and routers to gain access to the digital assistants and home IoT devices they control. Once infected, these devices can serve as a picklock to consumer homes while supplying botnets, which can launch DDoS attacks or grant cybercriminal access to personal data and the opportunity for other malicious activities such as opening doors and connecting to control servers.
  • Identity Attacks via Social Media Platforms: In 2019, large-scale social media platforms will implement additional measures to protect customer information. However, as the platforms grow in numbers, cybercriminals will be further enticed to focus their resources on attacking the data-rich environments. High-impact attacks, such as those targeting industrial control systems, have seen success in part due to static password use across environments. Successful social media and other identity platform and edge device breaches will provide the keys to adversaries to launch similar attacks in the future.

McAfee’s predictions:

  • Cybercriminal underground to consolidate and collaborate through stronger partnerships;
  • Prevalence of attack outsourcing will lead to use of artificial intelligence in evasion tactics;
  • Bad actors will combine multiple attack types to create synergistic superthreats;
  • Cybercriminals to use bots, negative social media campaigns to extort brands;
  • Significant increase expected in data exfiltration attempts from the cloud;
  • Digital assistants to become the next vector for home IoT attacks; and
  • Data-rich social media platforms will continue to be popular attack targets.

Malware risks

As we have seen a number of times this year, even previously iron clad security systems can be compromised by a coordinated hack. Another enterpriseinnovation.net article points out that this will only increase in the future through malware.

“While ransomware made the headlines last year, in 2019 we will see more attacks designed to avoid detection and maintain persistence,” Jeff Hurmuses, area vice president and managing director, Asia Pacific, Malwarebytes told enterpriseinnovation.net.

Future of attacks in the region

The article added that an increase in such malware has been seen this year, with the Philippines being one of the most targeted countries in the region. For example, the country is the most infected by Emotet, a banking trojan malware program that uses the same vulnerabilities that WannaCry and NotPetya exploited, with nearly 60,000 instances detected by Malwarebytes.

Sorebrect, a fileless ransomware infection that targets network shares, has been very active in South-east Asia as well, especially in Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines.

Hurmuses said: “ASEAN will remain a prime target for cyberattacks as the region becomes more closely linked through trade, capital flows and technology, making it more prone to complex cyberattacks.”

At the same time, he added, many users in the region use outdated operating systems and browsers, making them easy targets.

In the past quarter alone, 65% of the total cryptomining malware detections occurred in Asia Pacific. This type of malware takes over the host computer’s resources and uses them to mine cryptocurrencies without the user’s explicit consent.

He added: “While the idea of having malicious artificial intelligence running on a victim’s system is pure science fiction at least for the next 10 years, malware that is modified by, created by and communicating with an AI is a very dangerous reality. With an artificial intelligence attacker, you can have the manual, dynamic benefits of a real person behind the keyboard, while also having the attack completely automated. AI controllers will enable malware built to modify its own code to avoid being detected on the system, regardless of the security tool deployed.”

“This article was an eye-opener for me and should be at the top of every business owners reading list. You have been warned!” said Bradley Geldenhuys, Cofounder and CEO of GTconsult.