The State of Cyber Security During COVID-19

By Mitchell Scherr, CEO, Assured Cyber Protection®

COVID-19 has significantly affected the world during the beginning of 2020. From work to socialising, going on holiday and shopping, the pandemic has impacted everyone’s lives. There has been a significant rise in remote working as governments worldwide mandate social distancing to prevent disease transfer. This has resulted in a range of issues that many SMEs have not previously encountered. Cyber criminals seek to take 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 a sense of productivity during exceptional circumstances, cyber criminals can target new weaknesses. Shifting from the office to working from home, SMEs will find that their cyber security protocol may no longer be 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. Increased awareness and implementation of cyber security has never been more vital.

In an 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, can open the door 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

A necessary component of cyber defense is Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) software. This helps build layers of protection against breach, and works by installing an agent which continually monitors network events on an end-user’s device. If a threat is identified, it is automatically quarantined and analysed to either investigate and identify a past incident or use the data to look for similar threats. In conjunction with this software, businesses should consider using a Virtual Private Network (VPN). This is a simple yet highly efficient solution to keep cyber attacks at bay. It is engineered to hide the IP (Internet Protocol) address of a connection, thereby creating a safe, encrypted connection over a less secure network. These first layers of defence prevent hackers from accessing private data, such as passwords. A VPN alone is not enough to protect networks, but using multiple cybersecurity ‘components’ will reduce risk significantly.

Phishing for Information

A recent Make UK survey found that one in three businesses do not have formal cyber security training in place for their employees. The study showed that almost 50% of the same organisations lack a means to track the ongoing performance of internal cyber security infrastructure. These statistics highlight an issue commonplace within the wider business world; cyber security is simply not regarded as a Board-level responsibility.

Whilst cyber security protocols provide SMEs with some level of reassurance and protection against an attack, this is only one side of the battle. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, over half of cyber attacks in the UK involved phishing. 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.

Relying on ignorance and misinformation, phishing attacks are usually delivered by email. They are designed to appear to come from a trusted source, for example a bank or a colleague, with the aim of fooling the intended victim into revealing log-in credentials, credit card details or other sensitive information to defraud or deposit malicious software onto endpoints. These are simple to construct, allowing potential fraudsters to adopt a scatter-gun approach, attacking thousands at the click of a button. Although this has become particularly prevalent following lockdown, the good news is that re-training staff on cyber best practice can significantly reduce the risk to businesses.

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.