Your Company’s Cyber Vigilance Should Be on High Alert During the COVID-19 Pandemic

An increase in cyber disruptions over the past several months has stemmed from the COVID-19 pandemic. These cyber attacks are being driven by:

  • Remote work. A significant number of employees have shifted to remote work due to current circumstances, which has resulted in an increase in virtual meetings and communications.
  • Remote learning. Many schools have taken to remote learning, resulting in a higher likelihood of students introducing malicious content onto home systems which may ultimately impact family members’ and parents’ work-related activities.
  • Social tensions and anxieties surrounding the pandemic. Heightened concerns surrounding health, the economy, politics, and wellness and safety have welcomed more opportunities for fake offers, advice, and services.

A number of government agencies have issued alerts about increasing cyber-related crime:

  • The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has reported an increase in fake unemployment claims through stolen identities as well as fraudulent virus-related treatment options such as antibody tests and medications. The FBI has also detected a heightened level of other criminal activities such as child and elder abuse incidents due to increased isolation and vulnerabilities of these population segments.
  • Secret service agencies such as the National Security Agency (NSA) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) have also reported higher levels of corporate cyber espionage, especially targeting healthcare, biotech, and technical service-related research, development, and manufacturing organizations.
  • The Small Business Administration (SBA) reported extensive fraudulent activities that have been occurring in waves. During the first wave in April, cyber criminals used malware-based phishing attacks to prompt recipients to open infected file attachments named in support of COVID relief applications, along with related checklists and help documents. During the second wave, criminals used the SBA’s official logos to inform email recipients of their approved loan applications. Recipients were then asked to click a malicious link to review their funding options. The latest wave of attacks in August prompts recipients to fill out forms needed for additional disaster assistance funding resources.

Given all the chaos and confusion, middle market executives and business owners across all industry segments must establish a higher degree of cyber readiness in order to better manage increased risks that have recently come to the fore.

Here are five action steps that your company should take to ensure increased cyber readiness and resilience capabilities have been put in place:

  1. Identify all hardware and software assets – including those on premise, and those that are hosted, cloud-based, and mobile – and address all of their critical vulnerabilities.
  2. Review and update key internal policies, procedures, and related insurance, vendor, and customer agreements. This will allow you to ensure that the proper data protection, privacy, legal, and contractual mechanisms are in place.
  3. Establish proper training and reinforcement mechanisms for all employees to ensure they are aware of these policies and procedures.
  4. Institute effective and ongoing threat monitoring and analysis mechanisms to ensure you are continuously informed of potential attacks and issues.
  5. Develop, test, and validate business continuity and incident response capabilities and procedures. Conduct tabletop exercises so that you’re prepared if you are hit by a cyber-attack.

These are challenging times, but given recent IT advancements, you can leverage the latest tools and practices to better align your organization with improvement opportunities. This will enable you to overcome emerging challenges while setting the stage for growth and prosperity going forward.

Sassan S. Hejazi can be reached at Email or 215.441.4600.

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