Jenny Morris
12 May 2020 by Jenny Morris
Cyber Image

Working from home has been vital to slow transmission of the coronavirus. However, a new threat has emerged: increased online activity, use of new applications and less secure home networks are opening up individuals and organisations to a host of cyberattacks.

The problem

According to a recent Forbes article, in an analysis of the first 100 days of the COVID-19 crisis security firm Mimecast reported a 33% increase in detected cyberattacks – including spam (+26%), malware (+35%), impersonation (+30%) and blocked URL links (+56%). Certain industries are being particularly targeted, such as healthcare (e.g. The World Health Organisation have reported a fivefold increase in cyberattacks and PPE themed scams have increased) and banking (increased use of online banking presents many opportunities for hackers – such as exploiting new users who may not be familiar with the service).

A recent report from McKinsey highlighted the multitude of potential cybersecurity risks exacerbated by remote working. For example, changes in app-access rights (such as enabling off-site access and lack of multifactor authentication) and use of personal devices or tools (such as a laptop without central control or an unsecured network) increase the opportunities for cyberattacks. While technology was vital to navigate our way through the COVID-19 crisis, rapid adoption of new digital offerings has increased risk. New tools such as video-conferencing have been particularly affected, where an unauthorised person joins a call to steal information or cause disruption. There are also fake tech support scams – increasingly sophisticated attempts to manipulate remote workers (especially those who may be working from home for the first time) with fabricated access and other tech support issues.

The weakest point in any technical system is the person sitting behind the screen. The majority (at least half, according to Trustwave’s 2020 Global Security Report) of cyberattacks occur via social engineering, a psychological manipulation process using tactics such as sending a scam from a trusted source. As always, cyber-criminals know how to target human vulnerabilities, and the number of phishing scams capitalising on our fear of COVID-19 has significantly increased. In addition, we are more likely to fall for a scam when tired or stressed – given the change to working from home, where many are juggling a variety of stressors – we might be even more vulnerable to these kinds of attacks right now.

What can you do?

Given that the person behind the screen represents a security weak-point, they also represent an area of improvement. We will need to learn how to practise good cyber-hygiene, similar to how we adopted thorough hand-washing and social distancing to reduce the risk of the coronavirus.

There are several excellent resources on improving cybersecurity. For example, Siemens have provided their eight top tips for cybersecurity in the home office, including only bringing home essential devices, not mixing personal and business use of devices and ensuring all software is always up to date. The Electronic Frontier Foundation provide more in depth advice on how to spot a phishing scam.

However, while this information is useful, it can be more difficult to establish reliable cyber-security habits. A reported three in four remote workers have yet to receive cybersecurity training, despite the clear increase in risk. More importantly, remote workers are falling for these cyber-attacks. This was recently highlighted by software development company, Gitlab, who found that 1 out of 5 of their own remote-working staff exposed user credentials by replying to a fake phishing message. Regular testing of existing cybersecurity plans in this manner can help to identify areas for improvement.

The future

While cyber-attacks are growing ever more sophisticated, so is cybersecurity. Gamification is one fresh approach to cybersecurity training. Reading through countless tips and the odd video on cybersecurity is unlikely to translate to robust cyber-hygiene habits. However, gamified training results in increased engagement, knowledge and information retention.

Increased investment in cybersecurity may provide us with a host of interesting ideas. Cheltenham Borough Council recently announced plans for a £400 million campus development, situated next door to GCHQ, said to be the ‘Silicon Valley of the UK’. The complex will help to bridge the current skills gap and enhance the UK’s cybersecurity capacity.

Clearly, the coronavirus has highlighted a variety of cybersecurity threats. With remote working expected to continue for the foreseeable future and beyond, it is vital to address current shortcomings in security. Looking forward, the industry is an exciting one, poised for innovation and development.