Part 3 of 3: Why has COVID-19 created opportunities for cyberattacks?


The COVID-19 pandemic has brought massive disruption to the South African and global economy. How are cybercriminals taking advantage of the uncertainty and pressure facing businesses and consumers – and the fact that millions of employees are working remotely?

Discovery adapts to thousands of employees working from home

In his podcast interview, Discovery’s Group Chief Information Officer Derek Wilcocks explained: “Before COVID-19, we had about 1 500 people working from home. Within a two-week period, we moved to 8 000 people regularly working from home and over 11 000 who worked from home occasionally.”

Having a base of 1 500 employees at home in the past had let Discovery prepare systems to digitally support remote employees and get people working from home successfully. Zaid Parak, Chief Information Security Officer at Discovery, added: “When lockdown first started, our capability was in place, but we scrambled to increase capacity.” Employees mainly use Microsoft Teams for meetings and collaboration because it effectively integrates with Discovery’s security technology.

How does Discovery help employees to stay cybersecurity-savvy?

Getting employees to understand and keep up to date with their role in overcoming possible cyberthreats is an ongoing priority, says Zaid. “We have had to focus heavily on getting our staff to be more cognisant of what they’re doing and how they’re interacting with the systems and technology we offer.”

Discovery employees receive ongoing communication from the business on new cyberthreats and must also regularly complete cybersecurity video training modules. “Our advisory list grows with the increase in collaborative online tools that people are accessing,” adds Zaid. “All of our end points are managed with our security capabilities so the majority of our staff are connecting with Discovery-owned and Discovery-managed devices. For those who aren’t, we’ve created VPN capabilities so that where staff use their own devices, they are still protected and our data is protected when they connect to our network. Their activity is also monitored.”

What can we expect into the future?

Interpol predicts that:

  • Governments, businesses and schools will rely on online connectivity and virtual communications tools as employees continue to work from home, increasing their vulnerabilities and presenting more opportunities for cybercriminals to exploit.
  • Online scams, phishing and Business Email Compromise scams will surge due to the economic downturn and shift in business landscape, producing new criminal activities.
  • Criminals will take advantage of the underground market to look for ‘cybercrime-as-a-service’ given the ease of access, low cost and potential high returns of these platforms.
  • Threat actors will target individuals’ personal information through the spoofing and exploitation of digital content providers.

McKinsey predicts that the COVID-19 crisis is expected to shift cybersecurity spending across industries with large increases expected in these industries: healthcare; banking and financial services; technology, media and telecoms; and public and social sectors. Spending will focus on network security, identity and access management and messaging security.

#WashYourCyberHands – implement COVID-19 hygiene measures on a cyberlevel

Interpol has worked off the global effort to get people to wash their hands and curb the spread of COVID-19 by proposing #WashYourCyberHands:

  • A video on good cyberhygiene says it’s just like good hygiene in our daily lives. We should use the right equipment and be careful what we touch – #WashYourCyberHands of ransomware, fake websites, spam, malware, emails from unknown senders.
  • A second video links preventive measures for COVID-19 to preventive measures for cyberthreats and suggests that we all “self-isolate our data,” “monitor our accounts and passwords,” “practice social distancing from unknown senders,” “use protective equipment such as an antivirus,” ”avoid contact with suspicious emails or attachments” and “clean computer systems and mobile devices.”

Interpol’s “Cyber Safety Checklist” advises that we:

  • Back up online and offline files regularly and securely
  • Strengthen our home networks
  • Use strong passwords
  • Keep our software updates
  • Manage social media profiles
  • Check privacy and security settings continually
  • Avoid opening any suspicious emails or attachments but rather delete them.

According to the 2020 NTT. Ltd Global Threat Intelligence Report (which outlines key cybersecurity trends and recommendations for cyber-resilience), “The threat landscape is continuously changing, especially during these tumultuous times. In such a dynamic environment, and with absolute security as an impossible goal, businesses must be ready for anything. The report recommends that businesses strive to be both secure by design and cyber-resilient. It’s through finding the right application and balance of these two concepts that they can truly minimise business risk.

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