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Cybersecurity in the Age of COVID-19

While the internet has typically been a force of good over the course of the pandemic, the mass increase of active internet users has caught the attention of some “bad actors.” These actors, or cybercriminals, leverage the current worldly climate to exploit work from home setups and new digital services. 

According to a recent study, the use of malware increased by 358% through 2020, and ransomware usage increased by 435% compared to the previous year. Those are some staggering statistics. And what’s even more concerning is another report found that 60% of these breaches could have been prevented by patching and updating software. 

So, why all of a sudden are cyber threats seemingly around every corner? Well, the pandemic caused three things to happen that left the entire world vulnerable. First, the rapid acceleration in digitalization increased the exposure of assets and infrastructures. Second, the expanded remote working environment causes an increase in collective risk profiles. Third, the crisis made cybercriminals jump on the opportunity to double down on their malicious cyber activity.  

Keep reading to take a deeper dive into some of the reasons behind the increase in global cyber threats and how you can up your cybersecurity skills to meet this moment. 

Weak Points in Cybersecurity

When the whole world is forced to shift to remote work, we’re inevitably going to see some weak points in cybersecurity. This abrupt transition had workplaces of all shapes and sizes scrambling to support a fully remote workforce. While necessary, such a quick shift means that certain security measures and other protocols were placed on the backburner.

Not to mention, a lot of businesses felt they had to cut corners to keep up with the growing demands that mass remote work called for. One of the more significant and unfortunate ways many companies created weak points in their cybersecurity was through shadow IT.   

Shadow IT is described as the use of unsanctioned hardware or software without the approval or knowledge of your organization’s IT department or the IT security team.

In other words, Shadow IT is the use of products, services, or solutions that don’t align with your organizations’ policies surrounding things like security, compliance, data governance, and more. It’s shady business. We understand that desperate times call for desperate measures—but we urge you to never get this desperate. 

Shadow IT can cause some major drama for your business. The problem is, even well-meaning departments or employees go about using software and cloud services that call for Shadow IT; they’ll inevitably have to set up accounts with their personal credentials. With this comes a whole slew of compliance and data leak concerns.

You never want to leave your business-critical data in shadow IT mechanisms. Let’s take a look at some of the main issues with this approach:

  • Unsanctioned software and services: Departments or individual employees who use unsanctioned cloud services are prone to making dangerous security mistakes due to their lack of technical experience.
  • Sharing sensitive info outside of the organization: Shadow IT also allows access to unsanctioned hardware. By using consumer-grade cloud SaaS storage applications, employees can easily use personal devices to access, edit, and share information outside of the organization. This means that devices that may not have the appropriate security software and other protections in place are being used to interact with sensitive business-critical data. 
  • Malicious mobile apps: If an employee installs a malicious app on their mobile device that already has access to a personal cloud environment where they have copied sensitive business data, data leak concerns certainly come to mind.

Aside from shadow IT, it’s also important to ensure you’re using a virtual private network (VPN). Many people make the mistake of not using a VPN and risk compromising their security. 

Say you’re at the airport or a coffee shop, and you use the public Wi-Fi network. Many of us would connect without a second thought, but did you ever stop to think maybe someone is watching the traffic on that network? What about if the Wi-Fi network is legitimate? With a VPN, you’ll be set up with an encrypted tunnel for all your internet traffic. This ensures your valuable data is secure from prying eyes along the way.

The WFH Model is Here to Stay 

It’s no secret that the work from home model isn’t going anywhere. In fact, those working from home during the pandemic report wanting to do so permanently 123% more after COVID-19, and trends show that 50% of people will not return to jobs that don’t offer remote work following COVID-19.

This means that businesses need to get smart about how they are going to protect their data as work-from-home becomes the new norm. To do so, they need to help their employees understand the many different types of prevalent threats during this time. Some of the most significant include the following:

  • Malicious domains: A rather large number of registered domains on the internet contain COVID-19 related words and phrases. While many are legitimate websites, there are bad actors out there that have created thousands of imposter sites to carry out spam campaigns, phishing, or spread malware.
  • Malware: Malware, spyware, and Trojans have been embedded in many interactive coronavirus maps and websites. Spam emails are also tricking users into clicking on seemingly legitimate links that actually download malware to computers and mobile devices.
  • Ransomware: Ransomware can enter systems through emails containing compromised links or attachments, employee credentials, or by exploiting a vulnerability in the system. Often, victims are public institutions, medical centers, or hospitals since these entities are overwhelmed with the health crisis and will pay not to be locked out of their systems.

The Effects of Breaches 

A data breach can be devastating to any business as it can be incredibly costly. According to a recent study, the average total cost of a data breach is .19 million in the U.S. This may seem absurd, but think about it: compromised information is worth money. Not to mention, there will most likely be heavy fines and remediation costs for you to deal with. You’ll also have to pay your employees to investigate and fix the breach instead of doing their day-to-day jobs. That is unless you want to hire an outside firm, which is even more money you have to spend.

But wait—it gets worse! The average cost of lost business after a breach for U.S. organizations adds up to .2 million. It turns out, not many people are jumping to work with companies that have a history of compromising their clients’ data. One of the major effects many people brush over when it comes to the negative effects of breaches is the lack of trust that often follows.

As you probably already know, keeping your files secure is crucial to protecting your critical client and company information. It’s hard to work your way back into good favor with clients after your organizations’ name was in the headlines for a data breach, especially since this type of cybersecurity attack is often so serious. 

The average size of a data breach is 25,575 records. This means that each client associated with those records could decide that their information and interests are no longer safe in your businesses’ hands. And, yes—you must report a data breach. While notification costs after a breach for U.S. organizations add up to nearly 40,000, not notifying your affected customers isn’t an option. Want to try and avoid all of this? We thought so.

Cybersecurity Training 

Cybersecurity training is a great place to start. While you obviously can’t avoid every possible cyber risk out there, you can hone your cybersecurity skills through education. Here are a few steps you can take to stay proactive surrounding cyber threats:

  • Make a plan: Work with your IT team to figure out what’s best for your organization and clue in your staff. It should go over and outline important information as well as the actions that should be taken in response to a cyberattack. It’s also good to include an internal and external communication plan in case your business is the victim of a successful cyber attack.
  • Communicates the risks: We all understand the downfall of sensitive information being compromised, but it’s hard to imagine it actually happening to your business. Don’t just outline what could happen—show them what has already happened to businesses just like yours. Using real-life examples can help make the threats more tangible.
  • Find weak links: Think about sending out simulated phishing emails to see which of your employees might need extra cybersecurity training. Use this tactic as a learning experience for both you and your employees. They’ll learn from their mistake, and you can get a first-hand look at what your staff is most susceptible to.
  • Implement regular training: Cyber threats are always adapting, which means your training should stay up-to-date. You can create a culture of cybersecurity at your business by going over cyber safety in the onboarding process and holding regular trainings. 

Your Long-Term Solution

While training is definitely necessary for effective cybersecurity at your business, you need a long-term solution that doesn’t solely land on the shoulders of your staff. Cue SmartFile. 

With us, cybersecurity is actually built into our system. You can enjoy the benefits of securely accessing your files from anywhere—onsite and offsite—while maintaining company security procedures.

Leveraging SmartFile to improve your cybersecurity in the time of COVID-19 is a no-brainer. We’ll help your organization keep its files safe from damage and unauthorized access so you can focus on running your business without constant worry. Try our Secure File Sharing & Transfer Solutions today!

SmartFile is a business file mangement platform that gives you more control, compliance and security.