Cybersecurity lessons from the pandemic

Jerry Ray, Chief Operations Officer at SecureAge Technology, takes a look at the cybersecurity challenges ahead and what we can learn from our COVID-19 experiences
Jerry Ray, Chief Operations Officer at SecureAge Technology, takes a look at the cybersecurity challenges ahead and what we can learn from our COVID-19 experiences

Better times are hopefully ahead in the real world thanks to the success of the Covid-19 vaccine roll-out. But in cyberspace, there are no equivalent vaccine options that offer the same levels of efficacy and protection against sophisticated and constantly mutating viruses raging throughout our digital ecosystems. Google registered over 2 million malicious websites during 2020 and said it was blocking more than 100 million phishing emails a day during the first lockdown, with almost a fifth of them related to coronavirus.

Exploiting the Home-to-Office migration

Covid-19 has posed new cybersecurity challenges and will have a long and lasting impact on the evolving threat landscape. Working from home created a mass of distracted employees outside the confines of their office network and secured perimeter, vulnerable to phishing emails around Covid-19 and vaccine news. But motivated hackers will be just as active as offices and hospitality come back to life. Phishing messages related to everything from company policies to social gatherings will introduce new malicious file attachments and lead countless workers astray to fraudulent websites scooping up personal credentials and payment information. Staffing changes, the rush of new hires and mix of flexible working practices, will only serve to compound the problems for system administrators and security specialists.

Head in the clouds

Cloud technology came into its own over the past 18 months by making working from home a seamless exercise, but every endpoint accessing data from inside or outside the office will remain a target of hackers. Security professionals will have to keep in mind that cloud providers offer freedom of data access and freedom from physical infrastructure, but not necessarily the freedom of security or freedom from exploitation. Even with the notion of zero-trust having been shouted and praised globally in relation to VPN use for accessing corporate data, everything that can be seen on the endpoints needs protection on the endpoints. Renewed attention to securing them, whether inside or outside the confines of the corporate network, will be even more essential in the second half of 2021 given that cloud providers did a good enough job of storing, delivering, and securing massive amounts of data over the past year.

Relentless ransomware

Ransomware is one of the most common threats to any organisation’s data security, and this threat continues to increase and evolve. Ransomware made up a massive 81 per cent of all financially motivated cyberattacks in 2020 with the average cost of a breach costing victims a massive $4.44million, according to research by AtlasVPN. Technical preparation, such as remote backups with sufficient intervals and redundancy, should be no more critical than strategic preparation, where decision trees with probabilities should be drawn to help decide if or when to pay a ransom, even if never paying is the default stance prior to being attacked and all data becoming inaccessible.

No immunity

Nobody will be enjoying any type of immune response to changes made to cybersecurity policies throughout the work-from-home experience. The smallest to the largest companies, with hundreds of dedicated IT security staff, will still see users as their weakest security link and in need of constant education. Most cyberattacks are not targeted and rely on massive numbers of automated hacking attempts across vast IP ranges till someone, somewhere brings a dormant shell to life on the hacker’s terminal. No company whatever size is immune and security strategies and tools should constantly be evaluated and tested to protect workers at home or returning to the office.

Time to focus on the data

Traditionally, we have tried to protect all data with multiple layers of security to prevent access, but it is clear this is not working. So, if we can’t keep the cybercriminals out nor trust the people around us to always do the right thing, we must rethink the traditional ‘castle and moat’ methods of protection and adopt a data-centric approach, where security is built into data itself. 

Full disk encryption will protect data when it is at rest on a hard disk or USB stick, which is great if you lose your laptop but is of absolutely no use in protecting data against unauthorised access or theft from a running system. And though the situation may gradually change, most organisations still deploy endpoints with local storage, where extracted, sensitive data is often stored. Data, therefore, needs to be protected not only at rest but also in transit and in use, on-site or in the cloud. This means that if the cybercriminals do get through, they are faced with encrypted data that is useless to them. In effect, we would be beating the ransomware criminals at their own game – and how satisfying is that?

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As companies continue to navigate the new challenges of cybersecurity as we emerge out of the pandemic, approaching their security strategies with a sense of urgency and fresh perspective will reduce overall risk against to the increasing attacks we will face.

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Author

  • Cybersecurity, Security & Data, Cybersecurity lessons from the pandemic

    Jerry Ray is COO at SecureAge Technology where he supports organisations in finance, insurance, healthcare, energy and public sectors, developing solutions that infuse security into data. His career began in Japan at a global photographic film company and returned to the US to complete degrees in international economics and comparative policy analysis before becoming a program analyst at a Fortune 500 company. This led to 12 years as an international business development consultant for US-based enterprise software and services companies.

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