The holidays may be a time for spending time with loved ones and exchanging gifts, but the gifts cybercriminals bring aren’t jolly at all. 2020 Has been a rough year, and many organizations have felt the strain, particularly when it comes to cybersecurity and adapting to the changing tactics cybercriminals are employing. 

This year, give your organization the gift of a good cybersecurity posture by taking steps to safeguard your digital assets.

The Cybercrime Pear Tree: How the Sudden Shift to Remote Work Has Changed the Workplace Landscape

The sudden pivot to remote work earlier this year left many organizations scrambling to continue daily operations and minimize disruption, which means cybersecurity may have fallen down your list of priorities. 2020 saw an increase in the number of cyberattacks and brought with it new attack surfaces. Paired with a distracted workforce and unanticipated staffing shortages in a multi-stress environment, 2020 created very favorable conditions for cybercriminals that are likely to continue into 2021.

Cyberattacks on the Rise

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the FBI has seen a 400% increase in the number of reported cyberattacks, and ransomware attacks (one of the most common forms of attack) are increasingly targeting small and medium-sized businesses.

While key industries such as healthcare, manufacturing, financial services, and public sector organizations such as the WHO remain targets, financial institutions such as banks are now fending off nearly three times as many cyberattacks as they have been in previous years. Many of these attacks originate as phishing emails that either trick workers into handing over sensitive data or contain malware.

Cybercriminals are also increasingly targeting people through their mobile devices.

Shifting Attack Surfaces

The continued shift to remote work has meant that many organizations are relying on new and unfamiliar infrastructure and processes to continue daily operations. This lack of familiarity and the artificially accelerated shift to remote work means your team may not know about existing vulnerabilities in the software they are using to do their jobs. Cybercriminals are continually exploiting existing vulnerabilities in remote work technologies, so you need to ensure all software used has undergone a security audit. 

However, even if your organization has thoroughly vetted all new technologies and processes, you can’t be certain that your business partners, vendors, and other third parties have been as studious, which means you need to be extra vigilant and may need to take additional steps to minimize risk to your organization.

The Human Factor

The pandemic has taken an emotional toll as well, leaving workers distracted and stressed. Personal and financial stressors leave workers more vulnerable to social engineering attacks, and remote workers may not be as vigilant about their cybersecurity posture at home as your internal security team is at the office. 

As more workers call in sick or need to take time off or reduce the number of hours they are available to care for dependents or relatives, many organizations are facing unanticipated staffing shortages. At the same time, while many workers used to find working from home increased their productivity, the forced isolation, limited privacy, loneliness, and new demands brought by the pandemic have decreased productivity dramatically

In the United States, recent data suggests productivity among professional and office workers is down 11%, and manual service and industrial workers are, on average, 17% less productive. In-house security teams have been particularly hard hit as they are forced to operate in an environment where they now face multiple crises on various fronts at any one time, each of which demands significant attention from both management and security teams. Securing a remote workforce is also more difficult than securing an on-site workforce, further adding to security workloads.

The Digital Partridges: Threats to Guard Against

Phishing Attacks Leveraging Video Conferencing Software

Many cybercriminals have begun to leverage video conferencing software such as Zoom and Skype to launch phishing campaigns. Criminals create phishing emails made to look like legitimate pending notification emails coming from Skype, Zoom, or a similar platform. When users click on the link in the email, they are asked for their username and password, which are then harvested by unauthorized users for criminal purposes. 

Other groups are sending phishing messages reportedly from Zoom telling recipients they have missed a meeting or their account has been suspended, designed to get users to click on a malicious link to either view the meeting details and reschedule or reactivate their account. Other similar attacks try to trick users into downloading fake video conferencing software installation programs that contain malware.

Social Engineering in the Remote Work Age

We have already discussed in detail how remote work environments make social engineering even more dangerous. Social engineering involves manipulating individuals to infiltrate an organization at the human level by tricking users into revealing sensitive information or granting access to the network. 

Since social engineering attacks often rely heavily on email or other communication types such as phone calls or text messages, remote work environments are particularly vulnerable to this type of attack as users trade in-person meetings for phone calls, video conferencing calls, and text-based forms of communication. 

Social engineering plays on two main factors: our innate desire to help others and emotions such as fear, urgency, or other forms of psychological distress. Cybercriminals trick or scare users into opening malicious files, click on malicious links, or reveal sensitive information. A sense of urgency prompts users to act quickly before they have had a chance to properly weigh the request and consider it rationally. By the time users or their superiors realize something fishy is going on, it may already be too late.

Protecting Your Presents: Steps Your Organization Can take to Safeguard Your Digital Assets

Adjust Your Cybersecurity Strategy

Most cybersecurity strategies were developed with on-site workers in mind, so it is vital to review your cybersecurity strategy in light of remote work and adjust accordingly. You should already be reviewing your security practices at least once per year, but if your next scheduled review isn’t for a while, it might be a good idea to add an additional review to your list of New Year’s Resolutions.

You should also make sure you have a robust yet flexible cybersecurity incident response program in place. If you don’t already, you may want to consider drafting one as soon as possible. You should also review your incident response program and ensure that it takes remote workers into account and is still able to meet your organization’s security needs.

Secure Your Endpoints

An endpoint refers to any device such as a computer or mobile phone that can be used to access your network. While all the endpoints in your physical office may already be secure, you need to ensure that any home devices being used to access your network meet your security standards. Organizations that rely on BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policies are particularly vulnerable to cybersecurity attacks since organizations don’t have direct and complete control over how those devices are being used, what other programs are installed on them, and other factors that may compromise your network’s security and leave your digital assets vulnerable.

Regular Cybersecurity Training: The Gift that Keeps On Giving

This holiday season, consider giving your workers the gift of cybersecurity training. All employees, from the lowest ranking intern up to the CEO, should receive cybersecurity training as part of their onboarding process and undergo regular refresher training. 

The sudden pivot to remote work has likely affected how workers complete their daily tasks, so you should consider adjusting your current cybersecurity training program to account for these changes. You should also make sure that, as part of this training, you explain to workers why certain steps, procedures, and policies are important and how they contribute to the overall security of your company; When workers understand the “why” behind the “what,” they are more likely to see the value in additional steps and make sure to take them. 

Run More Exercises

Exercises such as pen (penetration) tests and tabletop exercises are incredibly valuable.

Pen tests involve hiring an ethical hacker to stress-test your network and look for vulnerabilities. Your team can then use the insight gained by the hacker to improve your overall security. Running a pen test on your network, with a focus on any new software your remote workers are using, can help ensure that your organization isn’t left vulnerable.

Tabletop exercises act like cybersecurity fire drills: workers are given a hypothetical scenario (such as a hack or data breach) and tasked with responding to it effectively. Tabletop exercises allow workers to apply the knowledge they gain in cybersecurity training in a no-risk environment. Once the scenario is complete, you and your team can sit down and review your response’s efficacy and identify any gaps or problems that need to be addressed.

Know When to Call in the Experts

Not everyone is a cybersecurity expert, and that is okay. After all, even Santa relies on his elves for their skills and expertise. That’s why the experts at VirtualArmour are here to help. From drafting a cybersecurity strategy to monitoring your network 24/7/365 for suspicious activity, our team is here for you. 

Should you experience a breach or hack, our team can help you fend off the attack, identify the root cause of the issue, and identify steps you can take to mitigate or even avoid damage and create concrete plans to help you prevent similar attacks going forward.To learn more about the cybersecurity threats 2021 is likely to bring, and what steps you can take to safeguard against them, please contact our team today.