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2021 Industry Viewpoints: cyber-attacks, the hybrid office, floor graphics

“Cybersecurity predictions for 2021 show the ripple effect of COVID-19 is likely to continue, leading to a rise in thread hijacking, whaling and human-operated ransomware,” says HP in its preview of 2021. Konica Minolta says the past year led to an “irreversible shift” in the meaning of the workplace and in 2021 “we will be entering the era of the hybrid office.” Ricoh says after a year of “exceptionally high demand” for floor graphics, the formerly under-utilised floors of retail, commercial and public spaces are likely to receive a lot more attention.

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FOREWORD - Publisher Andy McCourt

Here we are - days away from the end of the most diabolical year in living memory. Who would have imagined that a bug, a virus, could wreak so much havoc in the modern world. As we near the hour that Old Father Time packs his swag and 2021 dawns, several leading industry players are predicting what kind of year it will be - with the ways we work and interact with data being prominent themes. One thing appears certain - business will improve and, once exhibitions and events start up again post-vaccine, the sign and display industry will surge too. Some have done OK in 2020, shifting focus to Covid graphics, floor signage, PP acrylic screens etc.

The following opinions offer insights and opinions - some useful, some otherwise. One I disagree with is the concept of 'Zero Trust'. If we cease to trust one another in a responsible way, we take away a major part of what it means to be human, we devalue our humanity. There will always be breaches of trust but we are equipped to detect and avoid them, or deal with them swiftly if they occur. Trust is closely aligned to Truth and we should all have the ability to assess, analyse and differentiate truthfulness from deceit. We do need to be careful, especially online, but trust, judiciously applied, has its own rewards and strengthens organisations.

And so, over to the sages from HP, Ricoh, Konica Minolta and others for their 2021 vision. Wishing you all a very Happy Christmas and New Year break.


Everything from remote workers’ devices to industrial IoT devices have become the new frontlines of the cybersecurity battleground in our increasingly cyber-physical world, says HP Inc. “Cybersecurity predictions for 2021 show the ripple effect of COVID-19 is likely to continue, leading to a rise in thread hijacking, whaling and human-operated ransomware.”

HP has released its 2021 predictions on how security threats – such as human-operated ransomware, thread hijacking, unintentional insider threats, business email compromise and whaling attacks – are set to increase in the next 12 months.

HP’s cybersecurity experts including – Julia Voo, Global Lead Cybersecurity and Tech Policy; Joanna Burkey, CISO; Boris Balacheff, Chief Technologist for Security Research and Innovation at HP Labs; Dr. Ian Pratt, Global Head of Security for Personal Systems; and Alex Holland, Senior Malware Analyst – and experts from HP’s Security Advisory Board – Justine Bone, CEO at MedSec; and Robert Masse, Partner at Deloitte – all gave their predictions for the year ahead.

Weakened organisational security will lead to more unintentional insider threats

The dramatic changes to how we work in 2020 and the shift to remote working will continue to create challenges, says Julia Voo: “COVID-19 has weakened organizational security. Remote access inefficiencies, VPN vulnerabilities and a shortage of staff that can help the business adapt means data is now less secure.” From a cybercriminal’s perspective, the attack surface is widening, creating more opportunities, as Joanna Burkey explains: “We can expect to see hackers identifying and taking advantage of any holes in processes that were created, and still exist, after everyone left the office.”

Boris Balacheff says this also means that home devices will be under increased pressure: “We have to expect home infrastructure will be increasingly targeted. The scale at which we operate from home increases the incentive for attackers to go after consumer IoT devices and pivot to business devices on the same networks. And as we know, if attackers are successful with destructive attacks on home devices, remote workers won’t get the luxury of having someone from IT turning up at their door to help remediate the problem.”

Burkey believes there will also be more unintentional insider threats: “With employees working remotely, the lines between work and personal equipment are blurred, and innocent actions – such as reading personal email on a company machine – can have serious consequences.” Overall, the pandemic has increased the risk of employees making errors, as Robert Masse explains: “If you view the pandemic as a war experience, then organizations will be dealing with employee burnout. This can lead to an increased risk of errors in judgement.”

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Human-operated ransomware attacks will remain an acute threat

Ransomware has become the cybercriminal’s tool of choice, and this is likely to continue in the year ahead, comments Burkey: “What we’ll see is a rise in ransomware-as-service attacks where the threat is no longer the ‘kidnapping’ of data – it’s the public release of the data.”

The rise of ransomware has fueled the growth of an ecosystem of criminal actors who specialize in different capabilities needed to pull off successful attacks. Malware delivered by email, such as Emotet, TrickBot and Dridex, are often a precursor to human-operated ransomware attacks. “To maximize the impact of an attack, threat actors use their access to compromised systems to deepen their foothold into a victims’ networks. Many crews use offensive security tools to gain control of a victim’s domain controllers, which are often the best point in a network to deploy ransomware,” says Dr. Ian Pratt.

This trend is of particular concern to those in the public sector. Alex Holland: “The rise of ‘double extortion’ ransomware, where victim data is exfiltrated before being encrypted, will particularly hurt public sector organizations, who process all manner of personally identifiable information. Even if a ransom is paid, there is no guarantee that a threat actor won’t later monetize the stolen data.”

Greater innovation in phishing will see thread hijacking and whaling attacks

In 2021, there will be more innovative phishing lures designed to trick users and make attacks harder to identify. “The most innovative mass phishing technique we see is email thread hijacking, which is used by the Emotet botnet. The technique automates the creation of spear-phishing lures by stealing email data from compromised systems. This data is then used to reply to conversations with messages containing malware, making them appear very convincing,” says Pratt. We can also expect to see more of these attacks targeting individuals working remotely, according to Justine Bone: “Thanks to everything relying on strong authentication, as opposed to in-person presence, there is more opportunity for hackers to engage in social engineering to trick employees into divulging credentials.”

The prospect of continued social isolation has encouraged people to share more personal information online, which cybercriminals can weaponize. “Whaling, a form of highly targeted phishing attack aimed at senior executives, will become more prominent with cybercriminals able to take personal information shared online to build convincing lures leading to business email compromise fraud,” Masse says. Many of these phishing emails will continue to exploit people through fear, according to Voo. “New fears will be used to drive people to open malicious emails – whether it’s COVID vaccines, financial concerns related to the lockdown and any political instability.”

Hackers will tailor attacks to target specific verticals – in particular, critical infrastructure, pharma and healthcare, Industrial IoT and education

Zero trust is here to stay, but needs to be implemented in a way that is transparent to the user

Zero trust as a concept isn’t new, but the increase in remote working means that it is now a reality that organizations need to accept. “The traditional ways of securing access to the corporate network, applications and data are no longer fit for purpose. The perimeter has become obsolete. Over the years the workforce has become more dispersed, and SaaS adoption has risen – this means critical data is being hosted outside the enterprise firewall. The time has come for organizations to start protecting against the unknown, which means utilizing zero trust, but in a way that is transparent to the user,” Pratt says.

A new approach to security is needed

Everything from remote workers’ devices to industrial IoT devices have become the new frontlines of the cybersecurity battleground in our increasingly cyber-physical world, says Balacheff. “To meet this challenge, organisations need to re-think their security architectures and controls, and embrace the necessary innovation in technology and processes to help them support this new environment. For example, modern hardware technology exists that can help not only protect but also recover employees remotely and securely in the face of destructive attacks like those we have seen in the last few years.”

“Organisations face a huge security challenge in the year ahead, with cybercriminals becoming savvier about how to extract the most value out of victims,” adds Pratt. “Relying on detection alone will only result in an unsatisfactory outcome for the organization, so a more architecturally robust approach to security is required; one that builds protection in from the hardware up. Hardware-enforced technologies like micro-virtualization are transparent to the end user – this means they can click on email attachments and download files as they normally would, but are safe in the knowledge that if anything is malicious, it is rendered harmless. This protection-first approach leaves hackers with nothing to steal and no way to persist, helping organizations to deal with the variety of threats 2021 and beyond will throw at them."


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 Konica Minolta: What will shape the digital workplace in 2021? 

The COVID-19 pandemic triggered an external shock of unprecedented magnitude for organisations large and small, says Konica Minolta. “In 2020, IT had therefore one prime goal: to find solutions to keep their employees working. For many companies, tools used to enable remote working meant they could continue to survive. This translated to a surge of requests for digital workplace solutions.

“And we saw a breakthrough for digitalisation, even amongst companies that had previously been reluctant to adapt digital processes or did not effectively pursue them as a high priority. According to the recently published ‘State of the Digital Workplace Report’ by SMG, ”after three years of relatively static figures, for the first time a clear majority of organisations (56%) stated the digital workplace was an ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ important priority, up from 48% in 2019.” But how will 2021 follow this extraordinary year in terms of digitalisation requirements and developments? 

Konica Minolta’s experts Olaf Lorenz, Yoann Fortini, Shintaro Inoue and Jaromir Sponar expect that while 2020 was a year for finding solutions, 2021 will be the year for following these up with strategic approaches that address the new post-corona work reality. \

”Despite all the challenges and hurdles organisations faced in 2020, let’s start on a positive note: From a digital work perspective, we were never as ready as we are today to deal with the workplace-related implications of such a pandemic”, says Olaf Lorenz, senior general manager, Digital Transformation Division, at Konica Minolta Business Solutions Europe: ”A mere decade earlier, and most of the companies that were now able to let their employees work from home would not have been able to do so. The economic downturn would have been even worse. Simply put: Many businesses would not have had the means to survive – but today, thankfully, we did.”

Konica Minolta saw a surge in demand for solutions related to remote work and remote collaboration in particular. ”Within weeks, IT departments around the globe where in charge of completely reshaping their infrastructure and workplaces. While a significant number already had the capabilities to have some of their workforce off-premise, almost nobody had prepared for a scenario where everyone would work from home”, says Yoann Fortini, IT Services Go-To-Market senior manager at Konica Minolta Business Solutions Europe. 

”It is impressive to see what they were able to achieve at such short notice. In most cases, this was aided by existing digitalisation strategies and solutions, built up over the past years. Yet, the clear focus was on ensuring everyone could work; the pandemic was not the time for sophisticated strategic approaches. 2020 was marked by ad hoc swift responses. This will have to change in 2021. We will need to return to dedicated strategic digitalisation approaches with a view of long-term change. Let’s be clear: pre-corona working methods are a thing of the past. We now see the potential digitalisation has for organisations and their employees alike.”

Trend 1: The hybrid office will be the new workplace

2020 led to an irreversible and fundamental shift in the meaning of the workplace: ”Disconnecting the term ‘workplace’ from a specific geographic location has been proclaimed a consequence of digital working methods for some time. Now, as a response to the pandemic, this has become a reality much more quickly than expected. In many cases, to keep workflows going, organisations have had to compromise, allowing for example, bring your own device (BYOD) strategies that they had previously dismissed”, says Olaf Lorenz: ”In 2021, we will be entering the era of the hybrid office. This hybrid workplace will have to provide employees with seamless and efficient workflows – independent of whether they are working from their office location or from any other place.” The industry experts from IDC expect that ”by 2023, 75% of G2000 companies will commit to providing technical parity to a workforce that is hybrid by design rather than by circumstance, enabling them to work together separately and in real time”. Yet, by no means will this development be limited to large companies: IDC also expects already by 2021 that ”at least 70% of digitally enabled SMBs will operate under a hybrid model of working, with remote work emerging as a norm”.

Thus, across organisations, the physical office space will become smaller, reducing the ‘real estate footprint’ that businesses have. This will also change the requirements for IT, as Yoann Fortini explains: ”IT will no longer consist of a central internal network with external access enabled. Rather, its role will transform: it will manage a decentralised network of devices. These devices are intelligently connected and communicate with each other from a multitude of internal access points”. Yoann Fortini: ”We have set up our Intelligent Connected Workplace portfolio to cater to the needs of our customers in making the transition towards the hybrid office.” Konica Minolta’s Workplace Hub is a prime example of such a solution. It combines everything organisations need – from solutions for secure and effective remote work and collaboration to digital workflow solutions.

With increasing location independence of the employees, the printing infrastructure will also have to be managed differently. Cloud printing solutions such as those offered by Konica Minolta provide users the flexibility of location-independent printing, while at the same time unburdening the IT from the increased complexity this multi-location approach entails, while providing the highest level of security needed in the hybrid office reality.

Trend 2: Adapting security, safety and compliance to the hybrid office

The transformation towards hybrid offices must be accompanied by a new, holistic approach to security, in order to avoid negative consequences. ”The parameters for protecting your business have significantly shifted in 2020 – this will make an overhaul of the security strategy necessary for many businesses”, says Yoann Fortini. He expects this to include more secure and compliant information management systems, premises security solutions as well as managed security and disaster recovery services. This first and foremost starts with IT, as cyber criminality has quickly adapted to the new work reality: 2020 saw a steep increase in ransomware and data theft attempts trying to exploit insecure home office work processes . ”We unfortunately have to expect a further professionalisation of these attacks in 2021, strategically targeting the ‘weak links’ an unprepared IT may have”, states Yoann Fortini. To provide its customers with solutions to counteract these threats, Konica Minolta has made security an integral element in all of its Intelligent Connected Workplace offerings. ”We have designed our digital workplace solutions to have security ‘built-in’ – whether infrastructure, cloud services, information management, managed print services, to name a few”, he explains. At the same time, compliance is ensured when storing, handling and processing data, independent of the user access point.

The shift towards hybrid offices will also have security implications in terms of physical workplaces: With fewer employees on premise and, due to the higher home office presence in residential areas, we may see an increase in attempted break-ins to commercial buildings. ”Intelligent perimeter protection is becoming more important”, says Shintaro Inoue, Manager Video Solution Service at Konica Minolta Business Solutions Europe: ”Our intelligent MOBOTIX video solutions help address those.” Further solutions exist for the health protection of employees: ”We are, for example, able to provide solutions for measuring the body temperature of visitors entering premises”, Inoue adds.

Trend 3: Having to work with limited budgets to implement big change

With interruptions in both their supply chains and markets, 2020 will strain the financials of many companies across most industries. According to SMG, ”budget constraints have become a challenge for a larger number of organisations, with 41% of respondents in the third quarter.” This will place constraints on their budgets, even for high-priority activities such as digitalisation, so they must be utilised as efficiently as possible. ”Cost-intensive capital expenses such as those for on-premise scenarios will give way to flexible and scalable hybrid and cloud-based solutions, enabling businesses to pay for what they use, rather than for what they own”, says Yoann Fortini. ”This too is a trend we’ve seen develop over the past years that has now been accelerated by the pandemic.” Konica Minolta’s portfolio provides its customers with a broad range of XaaS offerings based on monthly subscription fees – from application monitoring, back-up management to printing as a service. At the same time, this ensures their IT is always up-to-date and meets the latest security standards. ”In times of uncertainty, this is a real game changer for our customers: they are not burdened with high fixed costs, rather their costs scale up and down along with their business, providing them with the agility they need”, Yoann Fortini says. ”In addition, we have to keep in mind that – unaffected by the current pandemic – our customers face a skilled labour shortage in IT. Outsourcing can help address this issue while at the same time limiting expenditure.”

Trend 4: Process automation and data-driven decision making on the rise

With limited budgets, large and small organisations will face a further challenge in 2021 with regard to their skilled labour. ”In fact, organisations will need to use their most valuable resource as best as possible – their employees. Arduous repetitive manual tasks are definitely not part of those application fields”, says Jaromir Sponar, ITS Business Development Manager, Microsoft MVP at Konica Minolta IT Solutions Czech. ”Manual processes with arduous tasks using small parts lead to errors and frustrated employees. Replacing those with Robotic Process Automation (RPA) means that repetitive tasks will be taken over by process robots – making fewer mistakes. Thus, employees can do more sophisticated tasks and we can increase their satisfaction,” Sponar says.

The same positive effect can be achieved by using intelligent video solutions in manufacturing companies, adds Inoue: ”For instance, our MOBOTIX intelligent video solutions record and analyse the performance of machines on the shop floor. Thus, qualified personnel can use these data and figure out the reasons for low productivity and optimise production workflows.”

Data-based decision-making solutions, such as those founded on Microsoft Power BI and implemented by Konica Minolta, will take this one step further, supporting knowledge workers in making better decisions. ”In markets increasingly shaped by volatility and complexity, fast, fact-based decision making can be a make-or-break success factor for businesses”, explains Jaromir Sponar, predicting: ”Similar to how the pandemic in 2020 has created a breakthrough for digital workplaces, the volatile business environment of 2021 and beyond will create the demand for such decision-making solutions.”

Trend 5: Digital workplaces – a steppingstone for more sustainable growth?

”Digital transformation enables us to rethink what is necessary, especially with regard to mobility-related emissions”, says Lorenz. ”This includes both daily commuting as well as business travel. Collaboration tools not only make communication and networking across different locations seamless – they are a good option when looking to avoid CO2 emissions resulting from business travel. This way, our collaboration tools such as Workplace Go can help the organisations effectively improve their CO2 footprint.”

According to Lorenz, an organisation’s future ability to grow will depend on its capability to navigate the shift to a low carbon, clean technology economy. Here, a higher digital maturity of the organisation can help achieve these goals: ”Of course, digital information management helps reduce the amount of paper used – and therefore lower the amount of natural resources required.” However, he also states: ”Yet, we must consider that digital processes use energy as well – here, efficiency gains and renewable sourcing are key – and they will play an even greater role in years to come. Sustainability will therefore be a focus in the digitalisation strategies of 2021 and beyond.”

”Grow, replace or repair and protect” as a strategic guideline for 2021

Therefore, while 2020 has undoubtedly been an extraordinarily intense year for all organisations, 2021 will hold ample challenges for them as well. ”With all that has been achieved in these busy past months, 2021 will see a general overhaul of the digital landscapes in companies. We expect a further pursuit of the already initiated transformation activities. Yet, businesses will also revisit many solutions that have been swiftly implemented in the wake of the pandemic. They will aim at repairing or replacing them where necessary, so as to improve efficiency, but also – probably at least as important – to enhance security and compliance”, Olaf Lorenz concludes.


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 Large-format lessons from 2020 and forecasting the future: Ricoh

"Coronavirus and its associated restrictions have resulted in simultaneously more and less demand for signage and graphics," wites Yucel Salih, large format specialist for Ricoh UK, in a FESPA blog that considers the lessons of 2020 and makes predictions for 2021 in the sign and display industry and beyond:

Travel, retail, and events and exhibitions have shrunk as profitable markets for print service providers (PSPs). Many businesses and organisations in these sectors simply closed in the spring and some are yet to reopen their doors. But at the same time, signage for informational and directional messages - for instance designating distances of 2 metres or one-way systems - have been in exceptionally high demand. Floor graphics, in particular, experienced incredible sales.

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In 2021, there will be - hopefully - less requirement for directional floor graphics, but now their effectiveness has been proven we expect to see more creativity in this application. Marketeers will surely see their potential for influencing consumer behaviour, while PSPs and designers will be keen to create incredible quality output with their digital printers and cutters. A formerly under-utilised canvas, the floors of retail, commercial and public spaces are likely to receive a lot more attention.

Application-led diversification, backed by technology

It could be argued that the print and display industry has rested on its laurels for the past few decades. Since digital large-format printers became affordable investments, most PSPs have found more than enough work to keep them busy; there was little need to look for new markets to explore. When COVID-19 hit, of course, all that changed. All kinds of business had to shift gear and see what else, and to whom else, they could sell.

Diversification has been driven by two aspects, besides necessity: the applications in demand; and the versatility of today's digital printing technology. For instance, thanks to large format printers suitable for multiple applications, exhibition specialists may have switched to floor graphics, while T-shirt printers normally busy with personalised tees for events perhaps shifted production to reusable fabric face masks. It's expected that print businesses have entered a new era of exploration, experimentation, and entrepreneurialism. Operators and owners will be looking at what else their print room can do and where it can take them, not just during a crisis but long term.

This extends beyond printing hardware. Inks and substrates are more specialised and yet more versatile and user-friendly, while software is making more things possible than we could have ever predicted. As more business is conducted online, PSPs now have the tools to integrate their printing operations with e-commerce and marketing platforms, giving them more control and direct access to new markets.

Forging and retaining connections

Interacting with customers more directly is part of the new normal. This year has been emotional, with much emphasis on staying connected with our loved ones and our communities. Relationships between businesses and their customers, and their suppliers and service providers, are more important than ever before. It's likely that the companies that succeed in the next twelve months will be those shown to be reliable and responsive to everyone in their supply chain.

For PSPs, these connections established in 2020 may prove incredibly useful in showing customers what's possible with print in 2021. Social media and e-marketing creates more opportunities for engagement and interaction; print businesses can DM or tag their way into the focus of potential customers or show their existing client list their latest application innovation via their inboxes. Trade shows and training have gone online - and are expected to stay there for the time being - giving more people outside the large-format print world unprecedented access.

Personalisation - at home and out

We expect personalisation in the consumer market to grow as a market segment. Custom wall coverings are already an exciting vertical market for PSPs but until recently were typically restricted to schools, colleges and offices, often to display motivational messages, and in hospitals where colour and design can create a more welcoming, less intimidating environment for patients. But now - judging by the demand for home decorating and DIY products in 2020 - there is an opportunity for PSPs to enter the domestic market armed with the ability to create bespoke wall coverings and other interior decor items.

Again, this is enabled by the unceasing R&D in our industry: the material versatility of large-format printing technology, the development of low-VOC inks suitable for domestic settings, and new substrates and adhesives that make DIY installation easy for the end user. And, again, software and social media make it possible for PSPs to sell directly to the consumer. There may be a learning curve, and perhaps it will be necessary to change how these services are marketed and branded, but established graphics companies have the skills to succeed in custom home decor.

Back in the commercial sector, we may see more localised marketing messages online, in OOH and on printed output. Many retailers and brands sought to connect with their customers on an emotional level during the pandemic and have now seen the value of adding localised elements of their marketing to retain that bond with their demographic. The nature of digital printing technology allows unlimited personalisation for businesses with one site or thousands.

Sustainability and reducing costs

Sustainability, in the eco-friendly sense, has moved down the list of priorities for many businesses and their customers. But 'sustainability' also means financial security with longevity - and these two definitions often go hand in hand. Reducing waste, transport miles and energy are all to the benefit of the bottom line as much as the environment.

Many of the trends of 2020 and 2021 discussed here come into play when talking about sustainability and reducing costs. The evolution of technology has resulted in direct-to-substrate printing with latex and UV, which uses fewer materials and is faster than traditional multi-step methods. Personalisation and greater customer involvement mean buyers get exactly what they want, adding value and reducing waste. Reaching the local market can improve turnaround speeds and therefore margins, while reducing transport emissions and fuel costs. By connecting with customers more directly, PSPs can also educate them about the sustainability of the materials they use, which is far from a black and white subject in our industry.

Sustainability, of course, is all about surviving and growing. All of us could benefit from taking some time to stop, take a breath, and consider what 2020 has taught us. This knowledge can help us thrive in 2021 and beyond.