The Coronavirus Pandemic: What it means for cybersecurity

The COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak has rapidly changed the ways in which our world interacts. Massive labor and economic shutdowns have been issued in order to flatten the curve of the outbreak. This calls for more employers and entire companies to switch to alternative technological solutions in order to maintain critical infrastructure. 

With the coronavirus pandemic, every industry is seeing unprecedented effects. With a significant increase in remote workers and cyber threats taking advantage of the pandemic, the cybersecurity industry has experienced some unique shifts.

The Current State of COVID-19

In the late fall of 2019, a novel form of the coronavirus emerged in Wuhan, China. This virus operates similarly to previous viruses like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS; 2004) and H1N1 (Swine Flu; 2010) when certain areas of the world experienced similar outbreaks. COVID-19 virus is a mutated form of the common cold or flu, but there is no current cure or solution.  

For three months, China and much of East Asia experienced large-scale economic shutdowns and mass amounts of people infected with COVID-19. While many around the world tried to limit the spread, the virus has spread on a global scale since March of 2020, something that SARS and H1N1 never did. The world is, therefore, experiencing its first-ever global pandemic since the Spanish Influenza, which lasted roughly from 1918 to 1920. 

Experts believe that the current pandemic will affect the world for the rest of 2020, if not longer, which also suggests that we will have to conform to a new way of navigating normal life. 

At present, essential services are shut down in much of North America and Europe. Many brick-and-mortar businesses cannot survive without the influx of cash, although some have adapted to provide online and shipping services.

How Cybersecurity Has Been Affected by COVID-19

Businesses Weren’t Ready

For those companies who can, much of the day-to-day operations have been moved to work-from-home (remote) status to maintain business continuity. Unfortunately, many were unprepared for this switch. Tech companies, particularly those in sales, are selling full work-from-home setups, including firewalls, VPN licensing, remote desktop licensing, Office 365, laptops, antivirus, teleconferencing hardware and software, and routers. Additionally, tech support for thousands of software companies is providing conversions for software and data backups that were previously only on-premise. This software needs to be remotely accessed and made more secure, so, in these cases, all the data is being backed up to a cloud for added security. 

Companies who weren’t previously set up for remote work had to make a sharp transition to web-based meetings, share-point access, and navigating unknown personal networks. If companies aren’t able to buy enterprise-supported hardware, then workers must access business data using personal computers via public internet connections.

Lack of Resources

Additionally, tech manufacturers do not have a stock-hold of hardware ready to ship out and many companies were left unsupported. China, who is ahead of the recovery time of North America and Europe, will be producing more resources. Unfortunately, technology products in the U.S., France, Germany, and Korea have drastically dropped. And, due to the shift in the standard protocol, not all of the hardware or software being shipped out of China will be vetted as thoroughly as recommended in order to ensure their products are not contaminated with espionage, a concern which has existed in the past. 

Shortages on hardware and software are pending, which means that poor technologies might be used more frequently, which would result in a slowdown of labor all around and lead to a high risk of cybersecurity threats due to lower quality systems.

Lack of Security Preparedness 

According to a CNBC survey, over 85% of companies in the U.S. have at least 50% of their employees working remotely since the COVID-19 pandemic. Experts worry that the level of hacking risk has increased to an unmanageable level, as SaaS providers find that they are unable to respond in time to defend systems against the transition of corporate systems to remote workforces. Hackers seemed to tap into the emotional stress of the situation. 

Not only are hardware and software concerns present, but some third-party apps could cause issues as well. Taiwan has recently banned the use of Zoom, a videoconferencing app that routes its data through servers in China. This government ban was issued because Zoom is believed to have key security flaws as Zoom has struggled to cope with its explosive demand in downloads. The key security flaws allow hackers the ability to eavesdrop into meetings, even commandeering machines, all due to the location of Zoom’s servers.

BYOD Opens New Access Points

While the cybersecurity industry is well aware that there are always 20,000 new cybersecurity threats each day, the influx of COVID-19 has provided hackers with added entry points. Because many at-home workers are using their personal computers, malware latches on to weak searches made on personal computers and can access everything on that personal network, including private company data. According to CNBC, there has been a 40% increase in phishing attacks since the pandemic. These are based on social engineering tactics called smishing and vishing, which are attacks that operate like phishing but are sent through SMS texts or as voice calls. 

This also means that every entry-point on that network could potentially be compromisable. This includes basic web-browsing, data clouds, email servers, mobile devices, printers, and much more. With so many added entry-points, hackers could gain access to data centers and major servers, accessing sensitive information from any company housed on that main server.

Targeted Industries

Ransomware and DDoS attackers are taking advantage of this unique situation to increase attacks, with some of them even using old malware and targeting hospitals. 

Unfortunately, targeted attacks on the healthcare industry have risen by over 150%. While all health facilities are encouraged by HIPAA to encrypt their data, implement adequate access controls, and set up security for data storage, the current pandemic has opened up several changes in healthcare security. 

To make matters worse, US Security for Health and Human Services Alex Azar has announced recent changes to the HIPAA waiver, such as relinquishing a number of patient privacy rights, in order to better navigate the influx of COVID-19 cases in hospital settings.

Tips for Securing Your Business During the Pandemic

Continually refresh and monitor business continuity plans

Business continuity plans may have been in place prior to the pandemic as general guidelines. Now that these plans are active, make sure they are effective, operating properly, and are allowing your business to function. As the changes associated with cybersecurity evolve, update and re-implement your cybersecurity plan at least weekly.

Establish regular user training sessions

There are a lot of new and moving parts for your business to oversee. Most likely, employees are feeling overwhelmed and like they must take on a lot of responsibilities in order to keep their job. Reevaluate daily processes so normal task expectations are lower. Training for remote work and increased security needs to be on the list of things to reinforce as high priority. Pandemic preparedness and crisis management should be included in training modules.

Work with security professionals

IT security teams can be outsourced in a variety of ways. An IT security agency will be able to conduct a security audit and they can implement a high-security firewall for personal computers. If there is a security incident, they will help get your company back up and running with updated or new security software, firewall, VPN, protected remote access, and remote employee monitoring. An IT security company will also contain security incidents, implement remediation plans, assess your company status post-remediation, and work with any insurers or litigators if necessary. They will also help you stay on track with HIPAA requirements during this convoluted time as a form of preventative security protection.

Business Continuity in the time of COVID-19

Many businesses are concerned about whether they will be able to operate through the outbreak. As a way to practice social distancing, to flatten the curve, and maintain business continuity, many companies are forced to work remotely and to manage a large group of remote workers with a range of cybersecurity risks. 

With the increased chance of a data breach, managing security for this new remote workforce becomes the top priority. While losing business could impact your bottom line, it is more critical to set up proper security protocols, like mandatory VPN and firewalls, as well as establishing a cybersecurity preparedness plan to ensure that your company is not hit by a malicious attack during this pandemic.

By SoftActivity Team

April 20th, 2020