CISOs Share More Cybersecurity Predictions for 2021

By Jim Richberg, Renee Tarun, and Rick Peters | January 22, 2021

In 2020, CISOs were faced with a myriad of new and unforeseen challenges that required significant and rapid shifts in strategy. And while most organizations were able to successfully pivot to secure the new normal last year, 2021 will bring its own set of unique challenges. Fortinet CISOs Jim Richberg, Renee Tarun, and Rick Peters joined us virtually to share insights into how CISOs across state and local government, education, and operational technology can prepare to face the challenges of 2021 head on and seize any opportunities that may arise.

For predictions on federal government, retail, financial services and healthcare, read our previous blog.

Jim Richberg, Fortinet Field CISO 
State and Local Government

“The real challenge for state and local governments in 2020 came from a rise in demand for services and a decline in resources. Unlike the federal government, state and local governments rely solely on tax revenue for funding and the pandemic caused this source of funding to slow. But a lack of funds does not mean that government can curtail providing the services citizens depend on—it just means the government must adapt to a new reality. While some state and local governments may be inclined to deprioritize cybersecurity as a result; with increasingly sophisticated and numerous cyberthreats that simply cannot be allowed to happen. 

 For state and local government, 2021 will be another challenging year as jurisdictions continue to grapple with a combination of resource shortfalls, growing demand, and an expanding attack surface. While services that went digital for public health reasons during COVID-19 may again be provided through in person transactions, online options are here to stay, making for a hybrid model of service delivery and further expansion of potential vulnerabilities.

Further, Adoption of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) in the form of digital assistants or ‘chatbots’ grew dramatically during COVID to help understaffed government offices deal with the surge in demand for digital services. As these tools are used in more sophisticated ways that may require access to sensitive data or connections, it will increase the importance of security as governments build the tools and workflows supporting these services. 

Developing a deep understanding of their current security posture and the options available to help close gaps can help CISOs know where to focus their resources for maximum impact.”

Renee Tarun, Deputy CISO 

“Like organizations across industries, academic institutions faced unprecedented challenges in 2020 as local mandates required schools to rapidly shift to remote, hybrid, or socially distant learning. Many schools did not have the IT infrastructure in place to accomplish this, and especially not in such a short timeframe. Further, students, faculty and staff would likely be accessing the network from often-unsecured internet connections and devices, increasing the opportunities for bad actors to breach networks.

Though schools have been able to implement security policies and solutions to combat these risks and secure their networks, their challenges are not over. Cybercriminals will continue to attempt to exploit weaknesses from all the new remote users and devices on the network. In 2021, academic institutions should expand on the solutions they put in place early in the pandemic to ensure a robust digital infrastructure that can withstand new and evolving cyberthreats. Academia will continue to see a barrage of cyberattacks, such as ransomware, phishing, and denial of service attacks. Complicating matters further, schools have traditionally been challenged with not having sufficient budgets and resources and 2021 may mean doing even more with less. Therefore, it will be imperative for these organizations ensure they look to reduce the attack surface and complexity in their environments. This will entail shoring up any weaknesses in their remote access solutions and protecting endpoints. As education institutions look to leverage cloud and SaaS solutions, consolidating visibility and administration tasks across both its cloud and on-premises security infrastructure to enable more efficient management will be key.”

Rick Peters, Fortinet Field CISO 
Operational Technology

“Operational technology has long been a target for bad actors, but the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 presented new exploitation opportunities that cybercriminals were quick to take advantage of. Many organizations were unprepared for the challenges of the pandemic and the increased cyberthreats; because of this, they had to pivot quickly to adopt security solutions that would defend their unique and critical infrastructure from attack. 

In 2021, organizations must begin to develop a more proactive security strategy that protects OT environments by leveraging up-to-date threat intelligence and constantly analyzing and revising their tactics to stay ahead of bad actors. For many, the present COVID-19 pandemic served to illustrate the propensity and commitment of cyber adversaries to amplify disruptive campaigns against OT targets during a period of great uncertainty. Expect a proportional response from OT leaders as they carefully focus their investments to accomplish proactive defense of high value cyber physical assets. Implementing cybersecurity best practices will likely require multi-year prioritization to gain confidence regarding the state of operations and adoption of an OT Security solution designed to outmaneuver adversaries.

The importance of Building Automation will expand and elevate as part of the key focus areas for OT (expanding beyond Energy & Utilities, Manufacturing, and Transportation). As a prominent part of future OT security conversations, anticipate that smart buildings, campuses, and cities will be top of mind across the global community. Likewise, the emerging strategies will be a foundation component in defining the new normal as our society stabilizes after the present health crisis.

Further, the value and demand for sustained OT situational awareness underpinned by robust actionable intelligence will grow as a key part of a proactive defense for Critical Infrastructure. Anticipate a response the recognizes the importance of a multi-faceted solution that employs technology, processes, and workforce readiness to achieve defense at the speed of business and ultimately OT resilience against a growing attack surface.”