Editorials

Remote Workforces Prove To Be Easy Targets for Cybercriminals

Whether it’s remote learning for the millions of students whose education has been disrupted by coronavirus or remote work for employees no longer able to go into the office, there’s no doubt COVID-19 has had a profound impact on the way we do things. But while the pandemic has made things difficult for a large number of people, we’re also fortunate to live in a time in which teleconferencing infrastructure has developed to the point where this kind of remote communication is possible. 

Tools like Google Hangouts and Zoom have surged in popularity during lockdown and, although no amount of video calls will ever totally replace the experience of being able to meet a person face-to-face, they’ve done an impressively good job of making up some of those lost experiences.

Unfortunately, as cybercriminals constantly demonstrate, where there is disruption, there is also the opportunity for them to take advantage of the situation. In this case, that means that a growing reliance on teleconferencing and other remote infrastructure has created a new target for hackers to attack. Because these tools have rapidly become critical infrastructure, they make a good (at least, to attackers) target for the likes of a DDoS attack.

How DDoS attacks can harm targets

DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) refers to a potentially devastating form of cyberattack in which a website or service is targeted with enormous quantities of fake traffic. Like diverting far too many cars down a street that is not used to accommodating them, the result is a kind of gridlock in which legitimate traffic is unable to reach its destination. 

This kind of downtime can be very damaging to targets. In the case of targeted telecommunications tools, the effects can be wide-reaching. For example, a DDoS attack that overwhelms a teleconferencing video server would harm the company responsible for this service. In a competitive market, that would not only cost them for lost revenue during the period of downtime, but also dented customer loyalty. This second point highlights the other way such attacks could impact victims — by hurting those who rely on the services. For instance, schools or workforces unable to access teleconferencing services may, in a world of remote working, be unable to get work done effectively.

It’s not only teleconferencing infrastructure in the form of streaming video communications that is crucial for remote work here in 2020. Many workplaces have switched to using remote access services that let users access private networks and systems remotely, via a computer or mobile device connected to the internet. Providing these remote access tools is a way of enabling work to continue even when people are remotely working, giving them access to their files and to collaborate with others. 

The scope of attacks

In many cases, IT departments set up Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), which are intended as secure means of accessing private networks by going through a public or shared network. However, even these measures can fall prey to cyberattacks since, as a result of the surge in numbers of users reliant on these VPNs, some gateways may already be pushed to their limits. As a result, even a comparatively small attack could be enough to render systems inaccessible to those who need them.

Hackers and cybercriminals know the damage these attacks can cause — which, unfortunately, is why they continue to carry them out. In some cases, hackers may even try and use the mere threat of a DDoS attack to attempt to extort money from organizations. This is because, at least in theory, paying out a ransom to avoid such an attack is less financially crippling than the attack itself has the potential to be.

Because of these things, it’s no surprise to hear that DDoS attacks are booming during coronavirus. The greater number of targets who are more reliant on these remote tools than ever, combined with the ever-lowering barrier to entry for staging DDoS attacks, means that numbers continue to explode.

The importance of business continuity

For organizations it’s never been more important to ensure business continuity. For that reason, it’s a smart idea to invest in the proper precautionary tools to keep you safe from DDoS attacks. Fortunately, the tools exist to protect users from these attacks. Cybersecurity experts have developed anti-DDoS tools that stay up to date with the latest developments in cyber attacks. If a DDoS attack is detected, they can identify the threats in real time, and block fraudulent traffic, while continuing to let through legitimate requests. These tools can help defend against everything from volume-based DDoS attacks to application layer attacks.

Working remotely isn’t something that’s going away the moment a COVID-19 vaccine is developed and rolled out. The ability to work from anywhere in the world, so long as you’ve got an internet connection, is an idea that has been gaining momentum for the past decade. Coronavirus has simply expedited the process.

In the same way, cyberattacks are going to continue. The smartest thing to do is to assess the threat and safeguard against it. That way you get to enjoy the positives of remote working without having to worry about the negatives.

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