How has the Coronavirus Pandemic Affected our Cyber Security?

COVID-19 has rapidly affected the way we go about our day to day business, from working, to socialising, from going on holiday and shopping, the pandemic has impacted everyone’s lives. There has been an unprecedented rise in remote working, as governments worldwide mandate social distancing to prevent disease transfer. This has resulted in a range of issues for the small-to-medium enterprise.

Cyber criminals are taking advantage of this challenging time. When working from home, each employee presents a new vector for attack against their company’s network, a new opportunity for a catastrophic data breach. As businesses try to maintain their levels of productivity during these exceptional times, cyber criminals are targeting vulnerabilities.

Shifting from the office to working from home, SMEs may find that their cyber security protocols are no longer fit for purpose as they struggle to deal with the influx of remote connections or cope with several dispersed endpoints. According to Action Fraud, a 400% global increase in cyber attacks was seen in March. Heightened awareness along with a revised implementation of cyber security has never been more vital.

In the office, employees work within a protected perimeter: the security that the organisation provides. When working from home, this luxury is difficult to maintain. A shared network environment, with many home devices, gives way to several unprotected endpoints, significantly increasing the risk of a breach. Home Wi-Fi networks are notoriously insecure, often using factory-standard or basic passwords that can be easily hacked, whilst game consoles and ‘smart’ appliances offer a low-security gateway to fraudulent activity.

Endpoints and Networks

Management of remote working involves deployment of key resources in a strategically sound manner without causing too much disruption. IT teams, who once had physical access to employee machines, now lack time and accessibility to address commonplace issues. An increased strain on networks is inevitable as networks struggle to deal with an exponential uplift and larger threat surface experienced as more connect remotely. In the absence of on-site diagnostic teams, and to protect the network from the unknown, automated threat reporting and diagnostic tools become important components in the arsenal of enterprise cyber defences. Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) software is a relatively simple and cost effective way of warning and alerting of potential cyber attacks. Deploying automated detect and response software means that IT departments can concentrate on responding to everyday IT issues whilst trusting that EDR is guarding the network perimeter.

The same can be said about VPN software. In the office environment, where devices are connected automatically, most employees probably aren’t even aware of how their connections to the network are managed – and to be honest they probably don’t care. Remote workers need to connect to their organisation’s network without it being a big drama and without it creating vulnerabilities for the business. A VPN not only protects the business it can protect the user at the remote connection from a major embarrassment by establishing a network gateway that can control traffic and disable connections easily. When these measures are implemented in conjunction with a comprehensive approach to awareness training, cyber security is more robust, even with a dislocated and remote workforce.

Phishing for Information

A recent Make UK study surveyed the UK’s manufacturing industry and found that one in three businesses do not have formal cyber security training in place for their employees. More alarmingly it revealed that almost 50% of the respondents lack a means to track the ongoing performance of internal cyber security infrastructure. These statistics highlight an issue, commonplace in the business world; cyber security is simply not regarded as a Board-level responsibility.

While cyber security protocols provide SMEs with some level of reassurance and protection against an attack, this is only one side of the equation. People are a critical factor in effective cyber security – without adequate training and exposure to the possible threats they may be more hindrance than help. Over half of cyber attacks in the UK involved phishing, a number that has grown exponentially in the past 2 months. In fact, last year over 80% of businesses were subjected to phishing attacks. When you add remote working into the equation, this statistic is only expected to rise.

Phishing is the buzzword when it comes to coronavirus-related cyber attacks, Google have reported that gmail users receive 18 million COVID-19 themed phishing emails every day. Link a successful phishing attack to a poorly configured or mismanaged security setting on the company network and a remote worker’s errant click could be catastrophic for business.

Regular training can ensure that employees are suitably informed and aware of cyber risks, empowering them to provide the first line of defence against attackers. This can reduce the rate of successful attacks by over 60%. Adopting a layered, strategic approach to internal training and cyber security solutions can help ensure that a company’s cyber security approach is fully capable of addressing and resolving cyber threats.

From the top down

Modern businesses are reliant on digital infrastructure for an array of tasks. It is crucial that cyber security is part of everyday operations, with regular check-ups and reports. The importance of this is so high that the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre offer advice through its Board Toolkit, encouraging directors and technical experts to come together and discuss cyber security.

This includes financial transactions, online communications, general operations and more. As a result, it is essential that cyber security is prioritised and owned by the Board of Directors. Should a business operation be disrupted by a cyber attack, it is the senior management and the Board that would be held to account.

The rapid, unexpected move to home working has raised issues around our digital health. Cyber criminals are taking advantage of these uncertain times, exploiting issues caused by inadequate remote working security procedures. During this time of heightened risk, businesses of all sizes must take the steps outlined in this article to ensure they have a robust, comprehensive cyber security system. By doing this, you can safeguard against one of the greatest threats during the lockdown period.