COVID-19 & the rise of the cybersecurity pandemic

Category: Business advice

The coronavirus pandemic has provided companies around the globe with a consistent number of issues in need of urgent addressing.

From changes to internal communication processes to accessing servers from a remote premises, while the rise of home working throughout the pandemic may have largely been seen as a good thing, the question marks that now surround at-home cybersecurity tend to say otherwise.

This is because, according to MonsterCloud, the number of cyber-attacks has skyrocketed in recent times, with criminals now utilising many workers’ weak home-based networks to launch their attacks.

Back in May last year, for example, the FBI reported an 800% increase in reported cybercrimes – a sharp rise from only a few hundred per day to over five thousand. TechRepublic, meanwhile, reported that almost half – 46% – of global businesses had faced at least one cybersecurity threat since the start of the pandemic.

So, why has this been happening? And what exactly have the connotations been as a result? Join us as we find out.

The results of a cyber pandemic

Cyber-attacks can happen in all shapes and sizes. Ultimately though, they are defined as an attempt by hackers to damage or destroy a computer network or system.

In light of the coronavirus pandemic then – a time which has not only unleashed a number of unexpected challenges within global enterprises but also accelerated several existing ones – it’s fairly easy to see why hackers have utilised this time to their advantage.

Fundamentally, security professionals have struggled to respond as quickly to the changing work environments as cybercriminals, who have taken advantage of the unprecedented shifts in people, processes and technology over recent months.

As a result of this, a wide variety of cybersecurity experts believe that Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) tools will become more and more important over the coming months.

This, according to George Glass – the head of threat intelligence for Redscan – is largely due to their ability to ‘uncover malicious activity in its infancy’, by monitoring endpoints like servers and workstations, instead of ‘solely analysing file signatures’.

How cyber-attacks have taken place

One of the more alarming aspects involved in what is now being referred to as ‘the cyber pandemic’ has been the number of different ways in which attacks have happened.

As Microsoft reported last year, COVID-19 themed attacks – where cybercriminals achieve access to a system via phishing or a social engineering attack – rose to approximately 25,000 a day in America alone.

Moreover, cases of ransomware, data breaches and unemployment fraud have all been seen to skyrocket in recent months as well, with major brands like Honda, Swatch Group, and Canon among those affected earlier on in the pandemic.

Going after these major brands in this way has, therefore, shone a light on how, who and why cybercriminals are now focusing their efforts. In essence, with so many more employees working remotely nowadays, networks have become a lot more open and easier to infiltrate – in fact, over 47% of individuals are estimated to fall for phishing scams while working at home.

As such, cybercriminals can now gather large quantities of data and effectively blackmail huge companies in a new form of attack. Zohard Pinhasi – a cyber counter-terrorism expert from MonsterCloud – summarises this well.

He said: “Ransomware [has now been converted] into something called doxware – a system which says if you’re not going to pay us, we will sell your data and notify your customers that their data was compromised.”

The rise of social engineering

During one of the more high-profile and well-publicised cyberattacks of the pandemic, a 17-year-old hacker utilised a combination of traditional hacking and social engineering to bring down several celebrities, companies and politicians’ Twitter accounts, encouraging users to send Bitcoin into a certain account.

This type of attack demonstrated that not all cyber-attacks needed to be completed solely online, since the hacker in question conducted the hack by initially getting a cell phone number assigned to a new phone, before then targeting a Twitter employee working remotely.

Using a fabricated Twitter IT employee alias, the hacker was able to access sensitive information via Twitter’s remote servers and unleash the attack accordingly. This, in turn, shone a spotlight on the importance of the physical security measures used to protect remote workers, rather than a sole need for cybersecurity protection.

Final thoughts…

If the coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that a lot more needs to be done to limit the actions of cybercriminals – especially now that many companies are considering working remotely on a full-time basis.

The battle between security professionals and hackers is much like a cat and mouse contest, after all. In light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, however, the mouse currently looks like it’s winning – and that’s something which needs to change. Fast.