The increased prevalence of remote working due to COVID-19 by businesses and governments has seen a parallel lift in cyber attacks.
It follows, that this will directly lead to a significant spike in cyber-crime losses and, with it, a largely avoidable medium and long-term economic impact that Australia needs to address with an immediate sense of urgency.
While the consumer threats have been rapidly exploited by cyber criminals and growing losses already well documented, it is certain that business and government risks may be many multiples of the losses experienced by consumers.
It is also likely that successful attacks will go undetected for longer than normal periods. In 2019, the IBM-Ponemon data breach study assessed that the average time to detect a breach was 206 days.
Mobility and work from home technology have been enabled for some time with vulnerable authentication and end point security. This has resulted in many of today’s corporate and government breaches.
The current COVID-19 pandemic is placing IT professionals in a seemingly impossible position of:
- Having to rapidly scale access to non-critical domains for employees; and
- Exposing, for the first time, critical and sensitive systems to known risks over open networks.
With breaches already escalating and the World Economic Forum listing cyber-crime as the single largest economic threat behind environmental issues, it follows that the two pressures on IT mentioned above will lead to greater cyber losses on already stressed economies.
In 2019, it was already being estimated by CyberSecurity Ventures that the economic impact of cyber-crime would exceed $US6 trillion in 2021.
The Australian Government, along with government officials from many other countries, are issuing warnings about cyber threats escalating at this time for consumers, businesses and governments alike.
The warning signs and official communications are clear:
- The Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) is actively warning against “increased opportunism from bad actors”;
- The FBI have warned that “In particular, cyber-attacks explicitly targeting those who work from home have also increased. This is only likely to get worse…”;
- Researchers at Israeli company, Check Point, discovered suspected state-backed hackers were using a booby-trapped coronavirus update to try to break into an unidentified Mongolian government network; and
- Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre issued a warning and six-page leaflet for businesses managing remote employees.
“Cyber-criminals are looking at the global disruption from coronavirus as a golden moment,” said H. Daniel Elbaum, chairman and co-ceo of VeroGuard Systems, an Australian developer and producer of an ultra strong cyber security and identity platform.
“They have the resources and tools to exploit the increased attack surfaces and security vulnerabilities. Further, the scale of work from home and uncertainty of a rapidly changing pandemic allows the thieves greater options and opportunity for attacks.”
The threats of breaches increase substantially when working from home due to a number of reasons, including:
- Poor security of home WIFI and shared devices when connecting to office systems;
- Greater physical threats from theft or loss of equipment;
- Stretched support services;
- Utilisation of authentication methods not designed with high assurance in mind;
- A lack of a robust and common digital identity infrastructure; and
- Increased pressure on detection systems and personnel.
Reducing the threat and impacts of cyber intrusions by following the ACSC’s ‘Essential Eight’ should be considered basic hygiene.
Elbaum says with coronavirus, we are seeing an acceleration of the cyber challenges that were already occurring in the market.
“Challenges that were predominantly caused by identity and credential compromises. A new approach is critical now if we are to make the digital economy work. Those countries that lead the way with the right infrastructure now will be the winners in the medium to long term. Much of what we are experiencing with the coronavirus will actually drive permanent shifts to the way we live and work.”
Saving human lives is a clear priority for our Government at this time however, the need for governments to serve Australians securely and efficiently online has never been more acutely felt.
Elbaum adds: “I have designed our platform with the view that it had to be both easy for users to interface with and ultra-secure. Only with absolute trust of the identity of all participants and the systems or data they are authorised to access, can we provide real protection from cyber-criminals. Uncompromising security has to be the standard for protecting our digital economies in the future.”
Post COVID19 will see more permanent sustained remote working – there is no going back. A rapid and concise response to the cyber threat is critical now to minimise what will be ongoing impacts from today’s cyber attacks and build a substantially more resilient economy in the future.