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Working from home

Working from home creates easier targets for cyber criminals

Timothy Ogden

As had previously been predicted on this forum, the fact that the world appears not to be returning to its pre-COVID working culture has had major cyber security implications.

The appeal of working from home does, of course, have significant appeal to both employees and companies. To workers, the absence of a commute to the office means there are fewer costs involved: there are no train or bus fares, or fuel costs for their car; perhaps more importantly for some, there are no early wake-up times and accompanying lack of sleep. For firms, there is no longer need to buy or rent expensive office space – some companies have eliminated their common workspace entirely, while others have significantly reduced their office spaces, and still managed to make significant savings.

Yet of course home servers are never as secure as their corporate counterparts; no matter how good you may think your security is on your laptop and home network, it is simply not the same as having a system controlled by IT professionals, who remain ready to intervene and repair any breaches that may occur.

A new emergent and highly organised cyber group, calling itself Revil, has already carried out major attacks on corporate enterprises. Its operations so far have centred on ransomware attacks, but with a group that is capable of assaults of this sophistication are undoubtedly capable of other types of cyber crime.

In early July, it was able to infect over a million systems, demanding $70 million in Bitcoin as a ransom. After the payment, it claimed it would release a ‘universal decryptor’ that would unlock the computers of those affected. The victims principally worked for 500 different branches of Swedish supermarkets, New Zealand education institutions, and a number of IT companies in the Netherlands.

More damaging still, the group attacked the American IT firm Kaseya, a major supplier of companies across the USA and the world. However, Kaseya claimed that only 40 of its customers had been affected, and Revil moved on to softer targets. Up to a million systems are believed to have been affected. This has resulted in the victim companies incurring financial losses due to the time lost in rectifying IT security shortcomings.

A recent survey from the UK and US-based security firm, Tessian, found that 56% of senior IT technicians believe their employees have picked up bad cyber-security habits while working from home. Worryingly, the survey found that many employees agreed with that assessment.

Nearly 39% admitted that their cyber-security practices at home were less rigorous than those practised in the office, with half stating that this is a result of feeling less scrutinised by their IT departments now than during the pre-pandemic period when they were in the office.

“One of the main mistakes we’ve seen is moving company data to personal e-mail accounts,” Henry Trevelyan-Thomas, Tessian’s vice-president of Customer Success, stated in an interview.

“When you do that, it’s likely you don’t have any sort of two-factor authentication. This then makes it easier for attackers to exploit that data. If data is leaked, attackers compromise it and it can end up in the wrong hands.”

The fact that the IT departments of firms are also having to deal with issues both in the office and in a whole host of different households is further adding to the complications.

It is highly unlikely that attacks of this kind will abate now that the working reality for many companies in most industries is likely to have changed forever. The need for cyber security systems is obviously greater than ever – the challenge for experts, however, will be how best to integrate security measures for both those at the office and their colleagues remaining at home. Ransomware attacks like those conducted by Revil in recent weeks could, perhaps, be just the beginning of a new dimension of cyber attacks.

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