COVID-19 isn’t the only virus you should be worried about right now – cyber crime increases globally

By Vishal Barapatre, CTO at In2IT Technologies SA

Johannesburg, 30 Apr 2020
Read time 3min 40sec
Vishal Barapatre
Vishal Barapatre

While the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to overload the global economy and cripple healthcare systems around the world, it’s also having a deadly impact on the security of homes and businesses. Measures taken to protect their workers and serve customers during the lockdown have exposed organisations to increased cyber threats. The biggest challenge for cyber security teams will be providing protection for their organisation’s digital assets while enabling operations to continue without interruption, under extremely challenging circumstances.

Offices on lockdown

With the 21-day national lockdown, enterprises have had to go to extraordinary lengths to make provision for remote capabilities for their people to service customers as usual in these unusual times. As a result, large-scale adoption of work from home (WFH) technologies has increased the use of online services, resulting in more activity beyond the corporate network perimeter. This presents fresh vulnerabilities for cyber attackers to exploit.

Exploiting the pandemic

As the coronavirus continues to make waves across search engines and news sites, cyber criminals are using its name as a keyword to bait and launch malicious campaigns in the digital space. For example, a document relating to the spread of the COVID-19 virus is proliferating in a variety of formats, spreading malware that encrypts files and siphons sensitive data from browsers.

Highlighting potential vulnerabilities

A tough balancing act, cyber security teams must adjust their security programmes to accommodate operations that need to scale while securing the shift to WFH tools. At the same time, chief security officers must make it possible for their teams to look after themselves and their families during a health crisis.

Secure the home office

Working from home has opened multiple cyber attack vectors, which means WFH systems will need to be vigorously secured and tested. Personal assets should not be allowed to come into the corporate environment, so business-only devices will need to be issued to all employees. To avoid General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and Protection of Personal Information (POPI) Act compliance concerns, enterprises will do well to utilise auto VPN and multi-factor authentication measures to provide secure access to digital business assets, while testing and scaling incident-response tools and remote support. It’s also important, at this stage, to revisit access management policies to make provision for work from home practices.

Businesses will also need to issue a refresher on secure remote working processes and protocols for security threat identification and escalation, as employees find they play a more important role in keeping the organisation safe, given that regular on-premises security measures are no longer relevant.

Test, monitor, prioritise and remain calm

Now is the time to implement any technology risk or security plans the organisation might have, or to work with a cyber security provider that can assist with the rapid planning and provision for incident response, business continuity, disaster recovery and the like. Eliminating risk events will be near impossible, but it is possible to reduce the risk of making a bad situation worse by ensuring incident response is timely. Monitoring is exceptionally important at this time, and will need to be ramped up where remote collaboration tools are concerned. The employees, devices and the network will need to be constantly monitored for new strains of malware to catch security-related incidents before they materialise as operational risk.

The next step is to balance, prioritise and remain calm and objective. At this point, IT cyber security teams will be inundated with urgent requests for cyber security exceptions that will make it easier for other teams to get their work done. These requests needn’t be outright declined, but they should be balanced with the need for business continuity in challenging times. Above all else, this pandemic is a human health crisis, but by adhering to practical cyber security principles to focus our efforts through monitoring, testing and incident response in a manner that balances the need for productivity and business continuity, it should be possible to avoid cyber security catastrophe.

Editorial contacts
Evolution PR Sandri de Wet (011) 462 0679
In2IT Technologies Vishal Barapatre (011) 054 6900