Business as (un)usual: Communicating During a Pandemic, and Beyond

The disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is like nothing seen in the modern age, in both a personal and professional capacity. Within a matter of weeks, millions of us have been forced to change the way we live and work, with estimates suggesting around a third of the global population is under enforced lockdown.

Setting up remote workstations – in some cases, overnight – is a monumental undertaking, and certainly not without its challenges.

There are however many positives to take from the mass migration to remote working, not least the increased levels of compassion and empathy on display around the world. The need to rapidly switch entire workforces to remote setups has served to expedite many organizations’ digital transformation efforts, and the speed and adaptability of employers and employees alike is something to behold.

Just as digital connectivity and agility provide a lifeline to organizations making the transition to a new way of working, so too does it present an opportunity to attackers looking to do those organizations harm.

A global pandemic creates fear, confusion and disruption – all of which attackers will capitalize upon, causing the average organization’s attack surface to increase dramatically. At a time when cyber criminals are targeting people over infrastructure more than ever, cybersecurity teams need to ensure they increase their monitoring in line with this growth.

However, it’s not all negative. With this more stringent monitoring comes increased risk visibility, which can provide an opportunity to cybersecurity teams. When we understand where and how attacks are most likely to strike, we’re better equipped to help our users defend against them.

Communicating this message will be crucial in the coming months – ensuring your employees understand the new threats they face and how to minimize their chances of success.

Understanding the new threat landscape

Working remotely 100 percent of the time is different than working from home occasionally. Remote working often means you aren’t protected by the same safeguards your office has in place; often adding additional hurdles and requiring extra vigilance when it comes to checking in with colleagues or partners to verify the authenticity of requests, and these conditions have breathed new life into a familiar foe: phishing.

As of last month, Proofpoint is aware of more than 200 coronavirus-themed phishing campaigns, accounting for over 500,000 messages, 300,000 malicious URLs, and 200,000 malicious attachments.

Attacks take many forms. Common methods include those offering a cure, others convincing targets that co-workers or neighbors have tested positive, and at least one that claims to be collecting data to populate a government database.

Impersonating respected organizations is another popular tactic, with current campaigns alleging to originate from the World Health Organization and the NHS, along with various universities and health services around the world.

As well as defending networks from increasing numbers of attacks, cybersecurity teams must make sure all users are vigilant and well informed of the risks they face, during what is likely to be an extended period of uncertainty.

Communicating through a crisis

While important, securing your networks is just one tenet of a robust cyber defense. As well as ensuring you have technical tools in place to protect your newly remote workers, you must also ensure they understand the threats they face.

They must understand their role in protecting not only your organizational data, but also personal and family data against those threats. Clear communication is key. Many within your workforce will be unfamiliar with working outside the office. They will certainly be unfamiliar with working through a global pandemic.

Make security awareness training an integral part of the transition to home working. Create a dedicated channel or portal for COVID-19 related threats to ensure the security message is not lost in the noise.

Distribute educational material and set time aside for training workshops – to remind employees of their general security responsibilities and to inform them of the specific attacks they may face during the pandemic.

This training should extend far beyond awareness of common threats, however. All users must understand the motives and mechanics behind an attack; how to defend against an attack; and how their behavior can increase the chances of an attack’s success.

Training should be ongoing and digestible, particularly during this prolonged period of elevated risk. The more that users understand their role in cyber defense, the more likely they are to take that role seriously.

Cybersecurity teams should also be making all employees aware of the threats they have blocked, to give a clear illustration of the lures that were targeting them, for both business and personal data.

Keep in mind that open communication is a two-way street. Your employees must feel heard during what is an unsettling time. Ensure that users have an open channel, not just for reporting potential threats, but also to express any fears or concerns they may have as they adjust to this new way of working.

Encourage remote workers to connect with IT departments to confirm any technical needs or concerns, and ensure they are using a secure Wi-Fi connection, company VPN, strong passwords and have a good understanding of security policies.

We may be navigating unchartered territory, but with clear communication, ongoing support, and a little understanding, we can ensure we stay prepared, come what may.

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