5G will accelerate cyber crime, predicts former White House CIO

An anonymous hacker using smartphone on the street at night
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5G technology will make it easier for hackers to engage in criminal activity and will result in “massive cyber attacks” this year, according to former White House CIO Theresa Payton.

The cyber security expert, who worked for the Bush administration between 2006 and 2008, shared her predictions for 2021 and 2022 during the first day of the annual Aruba Atmosphere event, which is one of the many conferences taking place virtually this year.

Payton told attendees that, as the ongoing pandemic leads to innovations in cyber crime, 5G connectivity will allow hackers to accelerate cyber attacks at an unprecedented scale due to existing cyber security issues going unresolved.

This will lead to a smart city reliant on 5G falling victim to a cyber attack by the end of the year, Payton predicts. She didn’t name a specific city, meaning that it could be smart city pioneers such as Singapore or Dubai, as well as London, which is becoming increasingly powered by 5G as the UK continues its nationwide rollout

In order to mitigate the effects of a 5G-accelerated cyber attack, Payton recommended that businesses ensure that they are aware of their “physical locations and plans for 5G”.

“Talk to each of the 5G providers in those geographies and make sure you understand your backup options and services,” she told Aruba Atmosphere attendees.

Payton also shared her predictions on ‘artificial intelligence poisoning’, which she described as the practice of hackers breaching and changing algorithms responsible for training AI, leading to the technology performing tasks which it was originally not intended to do.

“AI will be cyber criminals’ weapon of choice,” she said. “And it's going to continue to help them crack more and more accounts, networks and data stores.”

Payton told attendees that it’s “critical” for businesses to have champion/challenger testing for their AI. Additionally, they should run samples of decisions outside of the enterprise’s AI.

“Make sure that it's reviewed by a team that checks the work conducted by the AI to ensure you don't have issues going on inside that black box,” she added.

As a “bonus prediction”, Payton warned attendees that, following the SolarWinds attack, 2021 could also see a ransomware attack on a major cloud service provider that will make it “very hard” for the provider to avoid paying the ransom.

She also provided two considerations for businesses: consider using at least two cloud providers, and ensure that insurance covers the disruption in service “in order to avoid paying the cyber criminals ransom”.

As for further predictions, Payton shared her prognosis that, by 2022, artificial intelligence will be responsible for driving misinformation and manipulation campaigns – without human intervention.

"They will attack either an industry or perhaps your company, maybe even your C-suite executives, and it will be hard to defend against. Remember the old adage? If you're explaining, you're losing."

This is why companies should also prepare a "pre-debunking set of talking points" and learn to scan for misinformation campaigns.

At the same time, extended reality (XR) “will be used as a primary way to conduct global gatherings without travel”, according to Payton.

“And guess what? Sadly, it will be hacked,” she added.

Payton developed the predictions in November 2020 and, although she told attendees that she didn’t predict the pandemic, every prediction made by her “over the past eight years has come true”, including deepfakes becoming a household term.

Sabina Weston

Having only graduated from City University in 2019, Sabina has already demonstrated her abilities as a keen writer and effective journalist. Currently a content writer for Drapers, Sabina spent a number of years writing for ITPro, specialising in networking and telecommunications, as well as charting the efforts of technology companies to improve their inclusion and diversity strategies, a topic close to her heart.

Sabina has also held a number of editorial roles at Harper's Bazaar, Cube Collective, and HighClouds.