Cyber security tips for the loosening of lockdown

Author: Colin Dennis, Technical Operations Manager, CyberGuard Technologies 

UK SMEs are rising to the challenge of lockdown during this pandemic in many different ways, from changing business models to adopting largescale remote working.  

Despite these efforts, the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on business has been enormous, with government  statistics confirming that 6.3 million workers have been temporarily laid off (under furlough rules), by 800,000 UK firms, equaling an impressive £8 billion in support by 3 May.  

However, with lockdown starting to gradually loosen, and with the return to work in sectors where home working is not possible, including construction and manufacturing now confirmed, businesses in England are set to get busier again. So, what are the top security tips for getting SMEs out of lockdown and back to work?

Still not business as usual

Remote working will remain, even as we make our first tentative steps back to work as we knew it. This means that home endpoints will still need to be protected. 

Anti-virus licences and a robust patching strategy needs to stay in place and those businesses providing employees with laptops will need to take a decision on whether to maintain that flexibility longer term, or to call hardware back in.  

Laptop docks in offices are a good midway solution, especially for firms that have only just purchased new hardware. When adopting this type of hybrid endpoint strategy, it’s worth understanding that machines in home environments may not have fully updated all products, and some will stop checking in after a while, so push/manual updates may be necessary. 

Home machines may also have been used for non-work purposes during the lockdown, so confirming with employees if that is the case, and whether have visited any potentially risky websites is a strong recommendation.  

VPNs were often set up rapidly so network access should now be reviewed to ensure the right solution and security protocols are in place. Hackers will continue to exploit remote workers with targeted phishing attacks, especially during a period where a staggered return to work is being managed. This combination of some employees at home while others head back to the office will create gaps, which criminals will certainly be preparing to take advantage of - around £2 million has already been lost to coronavirus-related fraud in the UK at least.  

Look before you leap 

During these next few weeks, we will see furloughed staff heading back into the office or starting work again from home, raring to catch up on their email backlog. This is a huge potential danger point, as fresh phishing and ransomware links are waiting to be clicked. Hackers have been busy during lockdown, creating new methods to circumvent corporate network security - the Google ReCaptcha phishing scheme being just one example, so urging employee caution is essential.   

Similarly clearing through the backlog of invoices shouldn’t be rushed into without due process - bank invoice fraud is still highly popular among criminals.  

Businesses should not allow PCs and devices back onto the network until patching and security updates have been conducted. Our cyber-security team recommends that devices undergo a quarantine process to avoid infecting the network by simply plugging business equipment back in. This is even more critical if normally office-based equipment has been taken and used at home and is now being returned to the office.  

Build remote working into your IT strategy 

Many companies were caught out by the pandemic, especially in terms of their IT infrastructure. At OGL, our team was inundated with requests to set up VPNs, and endpoint security requests. There will be many SMEs breathing a sigh of relief that they ‘got away with it’ and be charging ahead with business as usual.  

But they should be aware. A huge learning from the pandemic is that businesses must be flexible, both from a security and wider IT perspective, and the time to consolidate that is now. We may experience another lockdown and a second peak, but these should not be the main motivation here - properly configuring cloud services and remote working protocols for handling data and everyday business processes is essential at any time. This doesn’t mean majorly increasing spend, rather spending smart where most necessary, and getting the strategy right for your business. An obvious area to consider is cyber-security training for employees; and never assume that technology alone will protect you.  

Data compliance  

Along the same lines, the sudden switch to remote working has the potential to spread business data across a wide variety of locations. Although most companies that manage personal data are now aware of GDPR stipulations, the time to conduct a full data and data handling process audit is now. Remote stores of data - from hard drives to USBs or home PCs - need to be encrypted in accordance with internal data policies or face the risk of data breaches and the fines that may well be another consequence of this pandemic.