7 Security Areas to Focus on During COVID-19

November 18, 2020

Contributor: Kasey Panetta

Rapid responses to the coronavirus pandemic leave organizations vulnerable to security breaches. Security and risk teams must remain vigilant and focus on strategic areas.

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In the Czech Republic, a cyberattack halted all urgent surgeries and rerouted critical patients in a busy hospital fighting COVID-19. In Germany, a food delivery company fell victim to a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack. In the U.S., workers received a slew of phishing attacks after the passing of a government relief bill.

Despite the current global pandemic, cyberattackers have made it clear they’re not taking any time off. Now that many workers have shifted to working remotely and organizations are distracted trying to handle the virus, security and risk management teams need to be more vigilant than ever.

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“During pandemics, organizations are focused on employee health and business continuity,” says Richard Addiscott, Senior Director Analyst, Gartner. “Take preemptive steps to ensure the resiliency and security of your organization’s operations as attackers seek to exploit human nature and nonstandard operating modes.”

In a sea of overwhelming priorities, security and risk teams should focus on seven areas.

Most of the security and risk team is now operating in completely different environments and mindsets

Focus Area 1: Ensure that the organization’s incident response protocols reflect the altered operating conditions and are tested early

Given that most of the security and risk team is now operating in completely different environments and mindsets, incident response plans and protocols might become obsolete or need to be adjusted. Even incidents that would normally be well-managed risks can become bigger issues if the team can’t respond effectively.

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Begin by reviewing the response team. Ensure that primary, secondary and alternate roles are filled and that everyone has access to the equipment they need to be effective. This is also a good time to reach out to suppliers to see what hardware they have and whether you can get it to the right people if needed.

Review all documentation and conduct a walk-through with a careful watch for any problem areas. If the organization does not already have an cybersecurity incident response capability, consider using the services of a managed security service provider instead of trying to stand up a new system.

Focus Area 2: Ensure that all remote access capabilities are tested and secure and endpoints used by workers are patched

Given how quickly most organizations found themselves moving to remote work, it makes sense that security teams would not have had time to perform basic endpoint hygiene and connectivity performance checks on corporate machines. Further complicating the matter are employees who are working on personal devices.

Ensure that corporate laptops have the minimum viable endpoint protection configurations for off-LAN activity. Security and risk teams should also be cautious with access to corporate applications that store mission-critical or personal information from personally owned devices.

Make sure someone from the security team is part of the crisis management working group to provide guidance on security concerns

Where possible, they should confirm whether personal devices have adequate anti-malware capabilities installed and enabled. If not, they should work with the employee and their corporate endpoint protection platform vendor to ensure the device is protected as soon as possible.

Other mechanisms such as software-token based multifactor authentication will also be useful to ensure only authorized personnel have access to corporate applications and information remotely.

On a strategic level, make sure someone from the security team is part of the crisis management working group to provide guidance on security concerns and business-risk-appropriate advice.

Read more: Ask These Questions Before Deploying Remote Access Technology

Focus Area 3: Reinforce the need for remote workers to remain vigilant to socially engineered attacks

The reality is that employees will have more distractions than usual, whether it’s having kids at home, worrying about family or concerns about their own health. They’re also operating in a different environment, and might not be as vigilant about security during a time where cybercriminals will exploit the chaos.

Make sure you reach out to senior leaders with examples of target phishing attacks, and alert employees to the escalating cyberthreat environment. Remind them that they must remain focused and hypervigilant to suspicious activities.

If appropriate, send out reminders every two weeks and remind them of the location of pertinent documents such as remote and mobile working policies, as well as where they can access security awareness training material if they want a refresher. Further, clearly communicate who to contact and what to do if employees suspect a cyberattack.

Focus Area 4: Ensure security monitoring capabilities are tuned to have visibility of the expanded operating environment

The sudden relocation of much of the workforce (including security and risk management teams) to remote locations creates the potential for cybersecurity teams to miss events.

Read more: Are Your New Remote Workers Visible to Security Teams?

Ensure that your monitoring tools and capabilities are providing maximum visibility. Check that internal security monitoring capabilities and log management rule sets enable full visibility. If using managed security services providers, check in to make sure they are adapting their monitoring and logs in a manner that makes sense for the new operating landscape.

Focus Area 5: Engage with security services vendors to evaluate impacts to the security supply chain

The changes in the security landscape won’t just come from your own organization. Be aware of what your partners and supply chain are actively doing with regard to security that will affect your organization.

Confirm how they will be securing collected data and information from the business. Remember that each of these organizations has their own people to worry about and their own business concerns. Ask questions about where third-party organizations might fail to deliver on promised security services.

Focus Area 6: Account for cyberphysical systems security challenges

COVID-19 is stressing many pieces of the economy, from hospitals and healthcare to delivery services and logistics. This extends cybersecurity concerns to cyberphysical challenges, especially given the increase in automated services and systems.

For example, a robot in a hospital will help reduce the human workload, but must also be deployed safely. In the legal world, firms are asking employees to disable smart speakers and voice assistants. Security and risk teams should focus on ensuring foundational CPS/OT security hygiene practices such as asset discovery and network segmentation, and evaluating the risk of fixing a vulnerability against the risk, likelihood and impact of an attack to prioritize scarce resource deployments.

Focus Area 7: Don’t forget employee information and privacy

Organizations may collect employee information that relates directly to the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, organizations might want to record when an employee visits a risk area or is home with an illness.

First, all this information is subject to laws and industry rules. Beyond that, organizations should seek to collect the least amount of information possible, ensure it is factual and store it in a secure manner. This information should be disclosed only when required by law and within the organization only on a need-to-know basis.

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