One effect of the coronavirus pandemic that hasn’t gotten a whole lot of attention is the rise in cybercrime that has occurred since the pandemic began. Cybercriminals are taking advantage of the confusion and uncertainty sown by COVID-19 to ramp up cyberattacks against businesses and individuals.
A study recently conducted by Iomart, a cloud computing business, found that large-scale data breaches are becoming more frequent and intense this year. During the first quarter of the year, the number of data breaches increased a whopping 273% compared to the first quarter of last year, according to the study.
Why is Cybercrime on the Rise?
The study attributes this dramatic rise in cybercrime to a couple of factors. First is the fact that so much more business is now being conducted online as people limit their visits to physical stores during the pandemic. Second is the rapid shift by many businesses early in the pandemic to a work-from-home model for their employees, many of whom work on insecure home networks.
A separate study conducted by VMware, a virtual IT business, identifies three types of cybercrime in particular that are spiking this year:
- Destructive attacks, in which corporate networks and data are completely destroyed, is up 102%.
- Ransomware, in which cybercriminals break into computer networks to encrypt files and then demand a ransom to unlock them, is up 90%.
- Island hopping, in which cybercriminals take over a business’ digital transformation efforts to perform cyberattacks against their customers and partners, is up 33%.
Meanwhile, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) said in April that it was receiving between 3,000 and 4,000 cybersecurity complaints per day, which was up from around 1,000 complaints per day before the pandemic hit. “As more people work and shop online, they are more likely to be targeted by online scammers,” said an FBI spokesperson.
There has also been a huge spike in COVID-related phishing schemes, according to a report released by ResearchAndMarkets.com. In these scams, cyberthieves send out mass emails to individuals that look like they’re from government agencies and hospitals. The emails try to trick individuals into giving out personally identifying information or downloading attachments that contain malware that gives criminals access to their computers.
Don’t Let Your Guard Down
In this environment, it’s more important than ever to not let your guard down when it comes to cyber-defense. Consider these steps to protect your business from cybercrime:
- Make sure your employees understand the importance of password security and provide guidance in setting strong passwords.
- Update your antivirus and spyware software regularly.
- Instruct employees to download the most recent versions of web browsers on their computers and to keep all their software up to date.
- Draft strict social media policies that restrict what kinds of social media activity employees can engage in while using the company’s computers and mobile devices.
- Instruct finance department employees to verbally confirm wire transfer instructions with the bank before initiating these transfers.
Guarding Against Phishing Attacks
Meanwhile, the best way to guard against being victimized by a phishing attack is to learn how to spot phishing emails. At first glance, these emails often look like they’re coming from a legitimate business or organization, but when you look closer, there are usually tell-tale signs that they’re not. For example:
- The logo isn’t crisp and clear, or it looks like it’s just a little bit off.
- The content claims there’s been some kind of problem with your account or some type of suspicious activity has been noticed.
- The email asks you to download an attachment or click on a link to resolve the problem.
- The content includes poor grammar or misspelled words.
The Federal Trade Commission offers the following tips for protecting yourself from a phishing attack:
- Set your computer or mobile device so that software is updated automatically.
- Use multi-factor authentication to secure your financial accounts online.
- Back up your computer or mobile data regularly to a source that isn’t connected to your home network, like an external hard drive or cloud storage.
- Determine whether you actually have an account or relationship with the organization sending the email. If you don’t, there’s a good chance it’s a phishing scam. If you do, contact the organization using a phone number or URL that you know is legitimate — not one contained in the message — and ask them about the email.
Maintain Your Vigilance
Cybersecurity experts warn that the volume of cybercrime may remain high until after the pandemic ends, and maybe even longer than this. So be sure to remain vigilant in guarding your business, yourself and your family from cyberattacks and phishing schemes.