Remote working opens up new opportunities for cybercriminals

9 Jul 2021

Neil Dover. Image: HP

HP Ireland’s Neil Dover talks the sharp rise of cyberattacks due to Covid-19 and why a digital world does not have to mean a more vulnerable world.

Cyberattacks have been plaguing the digital world for years, but not quite as much as in the last 18 months.

With the continuing growth of sophisticated cyberattacks and the ongoing security skills shortage, the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent mass move to remote working created a perfect storm in the infosec world.

From early on in the pandemic, cybercriminals were taking advantage of Covid-19 with predatory emails and spam messages.

The decentralised workforce meant that security teams were suddenly protecting several endpoints in various locations, making cyberattacks more likely and leading to burnout among the infosec community.

One staggering statistic from last year came from VMWare Carbon Black, which found that financial organisations experienced a 238pc surge in cyberattacks between February 2020 and April 2020.

HP Wolf Security, HP’s security arm, dove into this shocking rise further, focusing on how the blurred lines between home and work have increased the potential for cyberattacks.

Neil Dover, the country manager for HP Ireland, said changing work styles and behaviours are creating new vulnerabilities for companies, employees and data. “As a result, the shift to home working has opened up new opportunities to monetise attacks,” he said.

‘Endpoint security is more vital than ever as the first line of defence’

According to HP Wolf Security’s Blurred Lines and Blindspots report, 76pc of office workers say that working from home during Covid-19 has blurred the lines between their personal and professional lives.

The report found that half of respondents now see their work device as their own personal device and 46pc admitted to using their work laptop for ‘life admin’. Additionally, nearly 30pc have lent their devices to someone else.

“With the traditional corporate perimeter now a thing of the past, IT teams face the difficult task of policing and securing this new remote environment,” said Dover.

“IT professionals should be aiming to invest in resilient endpoint infrastructure, from self-healing firmware capabilities to machine learning-powered anti-malware solutions that are better able to spot new malware variants. This also includes hardware-powered micro-virtualisation, which can isolate and contain threats delivered by email, browser or downloads, while being transparent to the end user.”

Adapting to a remote world

While the pandemic wasn’t the first bout of remote working, it did massively accelerate the move. In a matter of days, a significant portion of the global workforce was suddenly working from home and not every business was prepared for it from an IT perspective.

Those early weeks saw companies quickly moving to virtual communication tools such as Zoom and WhatsApp, only to later move away from them amid concerns around Zoombombing and privacy.

There have also been concerns around accessing data. HP Wolf Security’s report found that 71pc of office workers surveyed are accessing more company data, more frequently from home than they did pre-pandemic.

However, while the security concerns around remote working are valid, Dover said remote technologies are here to stay, meaning the security will have to adapt.

“A digital world does not have to mean a more vulnerable world. IT professionals must be constantly flexible, proactive and reactive if they are to be resilient and protect against evolving threats,” he said.

“Cybercriminals are more sophisticated, organised and determined than ever before and are increasingly exploiting remote workplaces by targeting the ever-growing number of endpoints and [internet of things (IoT)] devices. Against this backdrop, endpoint security is more vital than ever as the first line of defence.”

Endpoints are not just the single internet connection in a house. It encompasses any remote device that communicates back and forth with a network, including desktops, laptops, tablets, smartphones scanners, printers and and IoT devices such as smartwatches.

HP Wolf Security aims to combine its PCs and printers with an expansive set of software and services to maximise endpoint resiliency.

“HP Wolf Security is rooted in zero trust principles, using hardware-powered design for greater cyber resiliency,” said Dover.

“The principle of zero trust is very simply, as the terms implies, to trust nothing at face value and to verify everything that can be. This involves leveraging user and device identities, firmware and software configuration and broader contextual information in order to make security and access decisions.”

Skills shortage

As previously mentioned, the past 18 months have created a perfect storm for cyberattacks. The most recent notable incidents include the attacks on Ireland’s health service, the world’s largest meat producer, Colonial Pipeline and the attack on software company Kaseya at the beginning of the month.

While the increased sophistication of cybercriminals is a problem, there has also been an ongoing skills shortage within the security sector with no signs of abating.

According to Cyber Ireland’s Cyber Security Skills Report, 41pc of business security teams are understaffed and a further 5pc are significantly understaffed. Furthermore, almost half of the companies surveyed have open or unfilled cybersecurity roles.

Dover said there needs to be collaborative efforts made across industry, education and Government to fully address the issue. “By growing the overall pool of cybersecurity professionals in Ireland through initiatives that attract children, students and adults into cybersecurity careers, we can grow local talent and help bridge the gap.”

He also said diversity within the industry needs to be increased. “Greater diversity brings strength to any industry, and cybersecurity is no exception. In an industry built to anticipate and combat an extremely broad field of remote attackers, having more diversity and a range of perspectives in the field is not only a benefit but a requirement.”

Jenny Darmody is the editor of Silicon Republic