The Virus Masks Can't Protect: Cyber Pandemic

Brianna Nguyen

January 10, 2021

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Any event as massive as the coronavirus is sure to bring about some sweeping changes. As people adapt to new circumstances, it has cast a new light on some aspects of life and business. Companies and employees alike are starting to shift in their understanding and perspective of cybersecurity.

Digital security has been crucial for as long as people have used the internet. Now that the pandemic has affected how people do so, it has shined a new spotlight on the issue. COVID-19 brings new security challenges and stresses where our old strategies may fall short.

Cybercrime is more prominent than ever. If nothing else, more people are aware of the threat of cybercrime now. The chaos and confusion of the pandemic created more soft vulnerabilities for cybercriminals to take advantage of. As a result, the world saw a surge in illegal online activities, highlighting the need for better security. McKinsey reported that spear-phishing increased by sevenfold since the pandemic began. The FBI has seen a 400% increase in cybersecurity complaints. Cyberattacks have hit the roof, bringing new attention to the issue.

Furthermore, some experts contend that technology has been a silver lining amidst the pandemic, since many business and personal interactions moved online without substantial outages or business impacts for 80 percent of the economy (excluding travel, restaurants, etc.). Cyberspace has stepped up to the challenges brought by COVID-19 in ways that couldn't possibly have happened during the last major pandemic (1918).

The adverse cybersecurity impacts of these online changes have led many experts to define and condense the collective events this year as a growing �"cyber pandemic.” In this year-end perspective, global people, process and technology changes in moving to digital transactions to home have made it easier for cybercriminals and nation state bad actors to disguise themselves as artifacts or impostures in tricking innocent users.

While new technologies bring better conveniences and features, they also present more vulnerabilities. Throughout the pandemic, many businesses and schools have transitioned into a work-from-home system. Digital tools like videoconferencing software and cloud storage have enabled remote work and learning, but they also present new risks. With these systems being more critical than ever, cybercrime is a severe threat. Even before the pandemic, cyberattacks cost small businesses an average of $200,000 a year.. Now that companies run more mission-critical work on digital platforms, they could lose even more. Reliance on internet services means a cyberattack could bring an entire operation to a halt. This digital reliance applies to everyone, not just business owners. As schools move to a digital learning platform, they need to consider cybersecurity too.

The pandemic has changed cybersecurity but the prominence and severity of cybercrime aren't the only parts of digital security that's altering. Now that people have adopted new ways of doing things, they have different security needs. The shift toward remote work is a prime example of this. Nearly 43% of full-time employees say they want to keep working remotely after the pandemic. Remote work, which relies on employees' personal devices and home networks, requires a different approach to cybersecurity. Businesses need to find a way to make IT security more accessible and flexible.

In response, approaches to cybersecurity will have to become more flexible, working to address issues as they arise. Just as businesses are having to become more adaptable, so is data security.

As the digital security landscape shifts, so are our ideas of who is responsible for it. The notion that security is the responsibility of a few employees in the IT department is fading. It's becoming clear that everyone who has access to a system needs to keep security in mind. Remote work puts more pressure on employees to be cognizant of threats, so cyber-awareness training is more critical now. With phishing attacks surging, more organizations will emphasize education about how to spot them to their workforce.

Below are not all but a few key tips in protecting yourself from cybercrime:

- Use strong passwords
- Keep software updated
- Strengthen home network (with an encryption password and virtual private network)
- Limit the info you share on social media
- Make sure the site is security enabled when online shopping: Look for web addresses with �"https://” or �"shttp://.” This means the site takes extra strides to secure your information.

Cybersecurity should be everybody's business, but that has not always been clear. Now that the security situation is more extreme, more people recognize that. People will approach cybersecurity in the post-COVID world differently than before, and for the better. The extremes of the pandemic have highlighted how the old ways of doing things may not work. Changes will start to bring improvements. The notice placed on cybersecurity is long overdue. It may be tricky to adapt to these changes, but it'll be worth it in the end.

Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.

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