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Cybersecurity Takes a Hit From COVID-19

The Cyber Edge
August 1, 2020
By Robert K. Ackerman
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The COVID-19 pandemic brings with it a new set of cyber vulnerabilities built around lifestyle changes throughout society, and these vulnerabilities cry out for new means of cyber resiliency. “It’s quite possible that historians will remember COVID-19 as one of the very important civilizational turning points,” says Alexander Kott, chief scientist of the Army Research Laboratory and Army ST for cyber resilience. “COVID-19 is acting as a forcing function. It forces us to accelerate the transition to a more virtual society than we were before, and it is accelerating the trend that was occurring before COVID-19 but was happening more slowly and less noticeably.”

He continues that even if a reliable vaccine appears and alleviates fears of the virus, a large fraction of the workforce will never return to full-time office life. Recent experiences have shown that virtual offices can be effective and can save a lot of money for both workers and businesses. Society will rely to a much greater degree on distributed work locations such as home offices as well as mobile locations.

But this flexibility means that physical security will not be as good as in a formal office environment, which is rife with dedicated security services and arrangements, Kott points out. Networks and computer security in particular are less secure with fewer controls. Even if a business provides support personnel for home workers, it will be facing challenges inherent in serving multiple virtual customers.

“What all this means is that the cyber attacker will have many new opportunities to get into our systems,” he posits.

Achieving cyber resilience in this new atmosphere is all the more important, Kott emphasizes. “The question now becomes, how do we make it so that penetrating our systems is of little value to the attacker? Can we make it a fool’s errand for the attacker? Can we prevent that attacker from gaining any meaningful value for all the hard work they have to invest in compromising our network and our system?

“COVID-19 made the importance of cyber resilience much greater than it was before,” he declares.

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