Employees being forced to work from home during the pandemic has made it much easier for hackers to infiltrate computer networks and helped cause the recent explosion of ransomware attacks.
Employee use of home internet and personal devices is a key reason for the spike in cyberattacks over the past year, as hackers are more easily able to find vulnerabilities in computer networks at home as opposed to more secure ones in an office.
Most employees have worse digital hygiene habits when they are working from home, and it is easier for hackers using fake identities to trick workers into giving out sensitive data and information when they no longer interact with their co-workers face to face, said Brian Horton, CEO of Breadcrumb Cybersecurity, a cybersecurity firm in California.
“Most cyber victims in 2020 were predicated on the work-from-home context. It makes it so much easier for hackers to exploit gaps and holes in the system, from home than in the office,” said Horton.
He said that the firewall protections provided by internet companies such as AT&T and Verizon, which most people use for home internet, are insufficient for many kinds of cyberattacks. Many frequently used online programs, such as the video conferencing app Zoom, were also easily exploitable for a period of time last year before appropriate controls were put in place.
A series of massive attacks on the computer systems of the federal government, the Colonial Pipeline gas provider, and the meat producer JBS have brought about a mainstream awareness of the need for increased cybersecurity and insurance.
Many companies left large gaps in their security procedures and protocols when people started working from home rather than in the office.
“The computer culture and rules that people usually follow in the office are not being followed from home. It’s also a lot easier for hackers to impersonate someone’s boss or colleague when they’re working from home and exploit that for their own purposes,” Horton said.
Many hackers were able to swindle companies out of money, including government-provided COVID-19 relief funds, as well as sensitive data, because they were able to impersonate company executives and get others to wire money to the wrong bank account or mistakenly send them valuable company information.
A growing cyber threat now that employees are returning to the office is “dormant” ransomware, a virus lurking on employees’ computers that remains hidden and unknown until the computer connects to an office network, said Chuck Everette, director of security at Deep Instinct, a cybersecurity firm.
“Like an ambush predator waiting for its prey, the ransomware then quietly and quickly spreads to these protected environments to encrypt and steal data,” said Everette.
“This results in the shutting down and crippling of critical systems, leaving companies no choice but to pay the demanded ransom or start the costly efforts to rebuild IT systems from the ground up,” he said.