COVID-19’s Shift to Remote Work Has Increased Cyberattacks
By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski
Faculty Member, Criminal Justice, American Military University
Working remotely from home has been a growing trend for several years. There are benefits for both employers and employees.
For employers, employee productivity and job satisfaction increase, employee health and wellness improve, and geographic boundaries in the talent pool are eliminated. In addition, unscheduled absences for work are reduced and the rate of attrition goes down.
For employees, working from home takes out the need to commute, which saves them time and money. Additionally, employees can develop a daily routine that increases their time spent with family members, their work-life balance improves, and workplace distractions are reduced.
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More People Working from Home Created Opportunities for More Cyberattacks
The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in millions of people working from home. This trend is likely to continue because according to the U.S. Census Bureau, around one-third of the United States workforce are able to work from home.
But despite these benefits to remote work, working from home has increased the risk of a company employee becoming a victim of a cyberattack. Based on data analysis from VMware, a California-based technology and innovation company, large-scale data breaches are up nearly 300 percent, according to FOX13 in Tampa.
Cybersecurity experts warn that this shift to remote work caused by COVID-19 has created an environment that allowed for this surge in cyberattacks. FOX13 also noted that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has reported that the number of Internet crime complaints is nearly equal to all of these types of complaints that were made in all of 2019.
Two New Phishing Scams Use Skype and Zoom
Cybersecurity researchers have already discovered two new phishing scams that targeted Skype and Zoom users during the recent spike in remote work. In the Skype case, hackers used a spoofing technique. This technique involves a cyber attacker who uses fake information to obtain someone’s confidence online, gain access to their computer data, steal information and spread malware.
In this case, hackers spoofed a remote employee’s Skype account through phishing emails that evaded detection in the accounts protected by Microsoft 365. The attacker created an email that looked very similar to a legitimate notification from Skype.
In this type of cyberattack, cybercriminals exploit the platform that company employees use to communicate with other coworkers or managers. Once an employee clicks on a malicious link, he or she may see an impersonated Skype login page with their company logo and a disclaimer warning that the platform is for authorized use. This log-in page is often where cyber victims are duped into providing their password.
In the Zoom case, the cybersecurity researchers identified incidents where phishing attacks occurred involving Zoom meeting notifications. An employee would be sent an email asking him or her to join a meeting regarding their job termination. Then, their credentials were stolen when they were entered into a fake Zoom page.
According to the researchers, this type of Zoom attack has already been seen in over 50,000 email boxes as cybercriminals seize the opportunity to steal information while more employees work remotely. As a result, it is important that every step possible is taken to prevent individuals from becoming victims.
Cybersecurity Protection Starts with Using a Work-Issued Computer and a VPN
From my experience in working remotely for over 10 years, one of the most effective ways to increase cybersecurity is to use a work-issued computer that the company provides. This strategy is helpful because a corporate virtual private network (VPN) can be used, enabling remote employees to access secure end-to-end encrypted cloud resources from the company’s secure network.
In addition, using a work-issued computer and VPN allows a company’s IT department to push security updates onto the remote computer and increase cybersecurity on the device. Even if a company computer is not utilized, a private VPN is a good cybersecurity tool.
Other Techniques for Increasing Cybersecurity during Remote Work
There are several methods you can use to increase your cybersecurity during remote work. For instance, the sender’s address on work emails should be closely examined to determine where the email was sent from. Misspellings, names that are not recognized by the receiver or any changes in the company email formatting are indicators of a potentially malicious phishing email.
When an email from a supervisor or coworker contains an unexpected attachment, it is best to contact that person via phone to ensure that he or she actually sent the attachment prior to opening it. Additional effective security protocols include:
- Using a multi-factor authentication for all personal and business accounts.
- Scheduling regular and mandatory password changes on a 60- or 90-day basis. Passwords should be complex and using passphrases is best.
- Using a complex Wi-Fi password that is different than the default password that comes with the device.
- Discussing in company meetings when Zoom meeting invitations will be emailed out. When using Zoom, the host should ensure that a complex password is needed to enter the meeting and that the list of attendees matches the invitees.
- Sending cybersecurity updates on a regular basis. Since 90 percent of data breaches are the result of human error, this strategy will help to prevent future breaches.
- Remaining wary of Zoom meeting invitations that lists job termination as the subject. Ideally, contact your supervisor before opening the email, since this tactic may involve a scam.
- Exercising caution and investigating any download requests.
- Encrypting work files emailed from one location to another.
- Keeping antivirus software up to date.
To ensure the cybersecurity of a company from threat actors, especially during an extended period of remote work caused by COVID-19, it is important to use all of the available strategies to keep private information safe. Cybercriminals can do a lot of damage with personal information or private company information, which can cost not only financial damage but also permanently damage a reputation.
About the Author
Dr. Jarrod Sadulski is an associate professor with American Military University in the School of Security and Global Studies. Jarrod was selected as the Coast Guard’s Reserve McShan Inspirational Leadership Award recipient for 2019. He has engaged in speaking engagements in the United States, Europe, and Central America on the topic of human trafficking, local law enforcement’s response to domestic terrorism, and promoting resiliency from police stress. Most recently, he presented at the International Human Trafficking Conference. His expertise includes infrastructure security, maritime security, homeland security contraband interdiction and intelligence gathering.