How has COVID-19 affected cybercrime?

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With many businesses transitioning back to remote working once more in response to the rising cases of the Omicron variant, it seems a good time to reflect on the impact of the pandemic on cybercrime. By nature, cybercrime is opportunistic and evolves in accordance with online trends. In addition to a general increase in cybercrime during the pandemic, this also explains a shift of focus by cybercriminals to bigger organisations and infrastructures whilst they continue to adapt to working online. 

The NHS has been a particular target of pandemic-related attacks. These can be as serious as targeting vaccine research or more general using COVID-19 as a method of luring workers into clicking malicious links or sending information. Similarly, law firms and other large corporations have also proved exciting prospects for cybercrime with access to client information and vast sums held on their behalf. Whilst smaller businesses and organisations with weaker security previously provided the best return on investment for cybercriminals, the increased information sent across the internet among larger enterprises, who have not upped their security in recognition of this, now provides a tempting incentive.

The biggest threats to cybersecurity are inadequate training of staff to identify cyber-threats and lack of appropriate software to protect against cyber-threats whilst working at home. The former cannot be understated with human error being the source of 95% of cybersecurity breaches according to Cybint. This emphasises the need for organisations to not just up their cybersecurity with increased and more sophisticated technology, but also through greater awareness of their staff.

Interpol, the International Criminal Police Organisation, has shared some helpful tips for remaining safe online at this time, whether it is for the benefit of you or your workplace. These include:

  • Always verifying that it is a company’s legitimate website before entering any information
  • Ensuring you have updated anti-virus software installed on any device that stores your personal information
  • Using secure email gateways to prevent threats via spam and vigilance when opening links
  • Strengthening your home network and performing regular health scans on all devices
  • Regularly updating passwords and ensuring that they are strong, i.e. a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and special characters)
  • Checking and updating your privacy settings on social media accounts 
  • Ensuring that other users in the household, such as young children, are also complying with cybersecurity measures

Whilst it is not reassuring that cybercrime is becoming increasingly sophisticated and thus, harder to detect, the personal involvement in its success allows it to be something you can personally take action against. However, the constant increase in attacks and the global cost of cybercrime suggests that much more extensive measures beyond encouraging individual responsibility are necessary to combat this form of crime.

If you believe you have been a victim of cybercrime, please report this to the police on 101.

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