Thanks to COVID-19 and the need to social-distance from one another, many companies shifted rapidly to remote operations. Teams that used to work side by side had to move to a home office or remote location. It also meant that all of their equipment, the systems they required access to, and related technologies had to be adapted for the new conditions.
Because things moved so quickly, it opened up many of these technologies and systems to outside attacks. It’s no surprise that we saw a significant increase in phishing, malware, and ransomware attacks. Key findings from a recent report revealed a 72% increase in ransomware attacks amid the COVID-19 crisis. The report also showed a 50% jump in mobile vulnerabilities.
What are some of the new and lucrative attack vectors that have appeared during the pandemic? Moreover, how can companies expect to address these issues?
Problem: Managing the Basics
Weak passwords are broken all the time, as are passwords used across multiple accounts. Hackers and thieves regularly share data dumps containing old and commonly used passwords. They use this information to gain access to various systems, including vital business networks, online services, and more.
A dump from 2019 included 1.1 billion login credentials and was one of the largest at the time. Since then, many more have happened, both big and small. Yet, people still use the credentials contained within these dumps.
Companies should be resetting passwords on a schedule, and it should especially be done as workers return to the office. You never know if or when passwords are compromised. The exception is if the passwords are auto-generated, but even then people usually have the option to change or customize them.
More importantly, proper password etiquette should be used to create strong, uncommon passwords. They should be at least eight characters long, composed of lowercase and uppercase letters, as well as numbers and symbols. Anniversaries, birthdates, and other publicly accessible details should never be used.
Problem: Improper Data Handling
Large datastores should have an expiration date, especially when they contain highly personal and sensitive information. Recent legislation has made it necessary to not only purge data regularly but also provide full access controls to customers and clients. They should be able to opt out of data collection and request deletion of all related information, at any time. Even so, when the data is stored for long periods, it’s vulnerable.
In some industries, such as health care, data must be stored indefinitely. That is where data cleaning comes into play.
Data cleaning is primarily used to prepare and improve the accuracy of collected information, by weeding out unnecessary details. However, it also improves data security by ensuring only the information that is needed is retained.
There is a specific process for collecting information during surveys and polls, storing it, and tidying it up. It’s something that must be implemented foundationally, as opposed to just at the end of a data collection operation.
Problem: SaaS and Cloud System Attacks
Many companies turned to powerful SaaS (software-as-a-service) and cloud platforms to support remote work and always-on-access. Whether managed internally or by a third party, these systems open a network and data up to potential attacks. In the age of COVID-19, cloud attacks are on the rise, most likely due to the increase in remote access system deployments.
Hackers are bypassing advanced security, including multi-factor authentication, by leveraging unsecured devices with shared access.
Tighten up access protocols by locking out unsecured devices. Even if remote access is necessary, no one should be connecting using an unauthorized or unsafe device or terminal. It is possible to lock down employee equipment, company-owned or not.
Problem: Employees Coming Back With Their Devices
As workers start returning to the office or workplace, they will be bringing either their assigned equipment back or their personal devices, which may or may not be infected. This is where the repercussions of a rapid remote work transition come into play.
Policies that are too lax, alongside improper security protocols, could mean a massive surge in attacks and infections. This is augmented even more by the fact that mobile vulnerabilities and mobile-related cyberattacks are on the rise.
The only solution to this is to prevent employees from bringing personal or outside devices to work, at least until they can be evaluated properly. Assigned equipment should go through an assessment and cleansing process before it’s issued again or provided access to company networks.
Advanced security solutions must be implemented, including firewalls and AI-based monitoring, with real-time authentication and reactions.
Preparing for the Big Return
For many organizations, the biggest security concern is going to be the eventual return to the office or the workplace. As everyone has been working remotely for some time, they will need to access internal systems, machines, and terminals. Moreover, they will be bringing either their personal devices or assigned equipment onto company property, ultimately connecting to the business’s network. That could bring a host of breaches or attacks, as could cloud or SaaS vulnerabilities.
Cybersecurity solutions should be readied for this big return, as should the necessary systems. All passwords should be reset and specific guidelines issued for creating new, stronger ones.
Hopefully, proper data handling and storage protocols have been leveraged all the while during the pandemic. If not, this is the moment to start.