Many Americans are currently working from home, often trying to home school their children and keep up with demanding jobs. Unbeknownst to them, they are also in the crosshairs of cybercriminals, who are hoping to capitalize on the uncertainty and stress caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) to steal valuable business data.

There has already been a reported uptick in COVID-19-themed phishing emails. According to Google, it blocked 18 million COVID-19 themed phishing emails in one week. Many contain links to what appear to be reputable organizations, such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) or the World Health Organization (WHO). Others reference programs such as the Paycheck Protection Program to entice users to click on malicious links.

While many aspects of the pandemic are out of our control, there are steps that businesses can take to strengthen their cybersecurity procedures and protect their valuable business data. Below are a few tips:

  • Provide training to employees: Many employees are not technology experts, particularly with regard to network and device security.

Businesses should provide detailed guidance regarding issues like:

  • Enabling the proper security settings on all software platforms;
  • Setting strong passwords for home routers;
  • Using a VPN (virtual private network) connection; and 
  • Performing regular security updates.
  • Enable multi-factor authentication: Employers should enable multi-factor authentication, which requires users to enter both a password and a one-time code sent via text or email, in order to log into business platforms, business-related software programs, cloud-based services, online communication tools, etc.
  • Require data to be saved on the company’s network: Employees should be cautioned against saving data outside the company’s secure network, such as on their home devices. These devices are often less secure and more vulnerable to attack. Similarly, employees should also be advised to exclusively use their company email account rather than a personal email account.
  • Limit access to sensitive data: Every employee working from home does not need full access to your network. To better safeguard your data, restrict network access to the minimum level required for workers to complete their specific job function or role.
  • Remind employees to use different passwords for each platform: Employees are likely using a variety of online tools to work remotely, from virtual meeting platforms to cloud-based accounting software. To minimize the impact of a potential data breach impacting one of these providers, employees should create a unique username and password for each platform. That way, if one platform has their data stolen, the same information can’t be used to access additional platforms.
  • Stress the importance of conducting due diligence: Your staff is both your greatest asset and your greatest weakness when it comes to cybersecurity. Employees should understand that COVID-19 will likely result in an uptick in threats to your organization and the potential consequences of failing to exercise due diligence. Basic reminders to not click links on unsolicited emails or open attachments from unknown sources can go a long way.
  • Warn against giving out sensitive information via email: Business email compromise (BEC) scams, in which perpetrators compromise legitimate business e-mail accounts through social engineering or computer intrusion techniques to conduct unauthorized transfers of funds, were already on the rise prior to the pandemic. With employees no longer working in a central office and communicating largely via email, BEC scams are becoming more prevalent and more successful. Therefore, employees must understand the importance of conducting due diligence when responding to electronic requests to provide credentials, facilitate a financial transaction, or share confidential data.

Red flags of BEC scams include:

  • Last minute changes in wire instructions or recipient account information;
  • Last minute changes in established communication platforms or email account addresses; and
  • Communications only in email and refusal to communicate via telephone or online voice or video platforms
  • Verify that third-parties have strong cyber policies in place: Your employees are not your only potential vulnerability. Third-party vendors and business partners are also likely dealing with the same challenges, including an expanded remote workforce. Thus, it is important to verify that they also have robust data privacy and cybersecurity procedures in place to safeguard your business information.

Key Takeaway

Cybercriminals often use times of crisis to their advantage. The rapid and sudden increase in teleworking further exacerbates this threat. To ensure that your company is protected, now is the time to review your cybersecurity policies and procedures for potential weaknesses and make sure your employees are well-trained in how to best safeguard your business data.

If you have questions, please contact us

If you have any questions or if you would like to discuss the matter further, please contact me, Maryam Meseha, or the Scarinci Hollenbeck attorney with whom you work, at 201-896-4100.