Remotely Healthy: Understanding Cyber Threats During the COVID-19 Pandemic

How has the pandemic affected the cyber threats to our networks?

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world was blindsided and crippled by a new, invisible enemy. In its prime, hundreds of thousands became ill or died as the coronavirus swept across the globe. Major cities started to shutdown schools and businesses, forcing them to operate remotely. Living rooms became classrooms as dining rooms became offices. As schools and businesses remain closed, vast amounts of sensitive data is transmitted through home networks during remote school lessons and workdays. Consequently, we are faced with one of the greatest challenges of our lifetime; adapting to the “new normal.” However, as we adapt, it is critical to understand the cyber threats posed by cyber criminals as we move forward.

Cyber threats during pandemic

In the United States, the Center for Disease Control advised all citizens to constantly wash their hands, socially distance, wear a mask, remain six feet apart and stay home.  It is absolutely crucial to take proper measures to protect the frontline workers and those predisposed from possible infection; therefore, the American workforce and students quarantine and use home computers and networks to complete their work.  The government specifically outlines precautions that US citizens can take to mitigate this pandemic and threats of COVID-19. Has your employer or school district outlined any specific precautions to take at home as you transition into remote work-life?  Have you received any training regarding VPN’s, security software updates or spotting fraudulent emails?  If not, you are at risk of being hacked.

Cyber threats-hacker image

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the FBI has reported a 300% increase in cybercrime attacks in the United States.  As we move forward in this new digital era, it is fundamental that anyone working remotely understand how much is at risk and the important role of effective cybersecurity measures.  The COVID-19 pandemic has emboldened hackers and offered new opportunities as businesses moved into remote operation. According to the Federal Trade Commission, US businesses have reported approximately 172,000 breaches resulting in about $114.4 million in losses since the beginning of the pandemic. For example, Marriott hotels fell victim to a massive data breach which affected 5.2 million customers and Honda was attacked with ransomware which forced them to shut down all operations globally. Both breaches occurred during the pandemic, affecting worldwide conglomerate enterprises.  Overall, it is extremely important to recognize and understand how vulnerable working remotely in our dining rooms and living rooms can be if no security measures are in place.  

According to a 2016 Cost of Data Breach Study, 90% of breaches were caused by human error.  Furthermore,  stolen data can sell for $158 per record on the dark web and a cyber-attack can cost an organization an average of $4 million in losses.  In the perspective of a business owner, these facts may seem quite unsettling considering these estimates were calculated long before the COVID-19 pandemic.  Even more disturbing, the study was completed when the workforce was operating in an office setting with company-sanctioned hardware, software and an IT department armed with firewalls and information assurance technologies to prevent attacks.  As 100% of a business, large or small, works remotely during the pandemic, how significantly is human error going to contribute to cyber-attacks in the post-COVID era?  Only time will tell.

Man using computer and phone to video call-vulnerable to cyber threats

As we navigate the “new normal,” researchers are working frantically to understand the virus and discover a vaccine.  Until then, government officials will continue to implement legislation and possibly more closings to prevent further infection, should positive cases increase. Meanwhile, CEO’s are discovering remote work to be more productive and that potentially, 37% of jobs can be done from home. Incredibly, as of June 2020, approximately 42% of the American workforce is operating remotely while 26% of “essential workers” report for work in person. Sadly, 32% remain home and unemployed as a result of the economic downturn (Wong, 2020). Taking these statistics into consideration, data security for the remote worker is absolutely paramount.   

Ensuring that proper cybersecurity measures are in place can save millions in losses and potentially prevent any further disaster to an already struggling business.  Regardless of organization size or prominence, cyber criminals exploit remote users and use this pandemic to their advantage.  In these unprecedented times, educating and training remote workers and students to take simple measures to mitigate and prepare for cyber-attacks can ultimately help protect their data as homes are transformed into modern workplaces and schools.  The global cost of cybercrime is projected to rise to $6 trillion a year by the end of 2021 (Brown, 2020). Considering remote work may remain in effect until long after COVID-19 is eradicated, frontline protection against cyber enemies at home is vital to prevent a crippling organizational breach.

Make sure your infrastructure—and workforce—is remote ready and safe against cyber threats. VForce will verify your remote infrastructure compliance, and quickly analyze and test your critical components such as device encryption, VPN health and application. Click HERE for a FREE IT or Cybersecurity Consultation.