The Coronavirus pandemic has changed every aspect of life both at work and at home, with disastrous health and financial consequences for millions. But for cybercriminals, business is brisk. Judging by the news, the pandemic hasn’t kept cyber-villains from engaging in their nasty criminal activities. On the contrary, it seems to have motivated them—an unprecedented surge of security breaches has been reported since the beginning of 2020.
Increased Telework Means Increased Vulnerability
According to a recent report from IGR Research, the number of people working from home on a daily basis increased from 21.5% before the pandemic to 38.2% today. This growth in telework, coupled with greater reliance on personal devices and connectivity, exponentially increases the attack surface a hacker or scammer can exploit. The chosen methods, for the most part, are the usual suspects: phishing, malware, social engineering, malicious websites, and the like. Interpol has recently stated that “Cybercriminals are developing and boosting their attacks at an alarming pace, exploiting the fear and uncertainty caused by the unstable social and economic situation created by COVID-19.”
Cybercrime Under Cover of COVID Chaos
While the methods and means of attack have not changed for the most part, criminals are using the pandemic’s resultant chaos and stress as cover for their attacks, impersonating well-known companies to mislead employees and customers. The F5 data indicates that from January to August 2020, 45% of reported security incidents were DDoS-related while 43% were password login attacks. The remaining 12% of reported security incidents included malware infections, web attacks, and other unclassified attacks.
Lessons Learned from High-Profile Twitter Cyberattack
According to F5, a leading provider of multifaceted network security, two large-scale attacks were orchestrated through distributed denial of service (DDoS) and password login attacks. F5 further indicated that the breaches occurred through phishing, malspam, and ransomware.
The highest profile of these attacks was the “Twitter attack,” which happened in July, 2020. According to the Twitter Investigation Report conducted by the New York Department of Financial Services, a 17-year old hacker breached Twitter’s network, seizing control of dozens of Twitter accounts assigned to high-profile users. “While the world was watching,” the report stated, “the hackers took over the Twitter accounts of politicians, celebrities, and entrepreneurs including Barack Obama, Kim Kardashian West, Jeff Bezos, and Elon Musk, as well as those of several cryptocurrency companies regulated by the New York State Department of Financial Services.” The report continues, “For several hours Twitter seemed unable to stop the hack.” The hackers stole more than $118,000 worth of bitcoin and exposed the security vulnerability of a $37 Billion dollar tech company running a global social media platform.
The simplicity of the hack was startling. There were no shadowy figures using sophisticated software tools to break into Twitter’s network. The hackers simply called multiple Twitter employees claiming to be from Twitter’s IT department in order to gain the information they needed for network entry. Once inside, access to internal tools gave them control over any Twitter user’s account.
While the Twitter breach could have happened in the best of times, it shows how the pandemic has increased vulnerability in two main areas. First, by placing additional burdens on IT organizations and capabilities, COVID-19 has created distraction and diverted attention away from cybersecurity. Second, by increasing the number of connected people and devices, especially people who are unaccustomed to working online, it has increased the number of targets and brought about new areas of possible entry for cybercriminals. According to IGR (iGR Research, 2020), a mere 14.5% of respondents who are working from home have been provided with a laptop or other computing device, and only 7% have been provided a mobile device. Personal devices lacking proper security protocols and configurations create more and easier ways for cybercriminals to enter the network.
Companies and security professionals must realize that the transition back to office-based work will be a slow one and not everyone will return. To reduce the risk posed by working at home, companies should conduct a fresh security risk assessment designed to address the new and increased network vulnerabilities posed by a distributed workforce and develop a security strategy addressing those critical items.
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