In the Covid-19 Era, Businesses and Schools Need to Keep Cybersecurity in Mind

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The majority of what makes back-to-school time fun has disappeared this year as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Many states, including California have decided to forego in-person learning in counties with rising Covid-19 infection rates. Based on the July statistics, this accounts for roughly 90% of California’s school-age students. Minnesota announced an unexpected pivot to remote learning after teachers and families alike expressed their concerns about in-person learning in the middle of an outbreak. 

While several states and school districts are taking a more business as usual approach to in-person learning, the virus’s ability to spread rapidly in short periods of time, coupled with the high infection rates in states like Florida (9000 confirmed cases in students within two weeks of reopening) point to more classrooms transitioning to remote-only learning. 

Given the massive upheaval caused by millions of families transforming their homes into dual-use offices and classrooms, it’s unsurprising that cybersecurity precautions have largely fallen by the wayside. 

Pre-pandemic, few schools had the resources to commit to effective cybersecurity and were common targets of malware and phishing campaigns, with over 936 reported incidents targeting K-12 schools since January 2016. Since the pandemic began and remote learning became more common, the risks have increased. 

An FBI Private Industry Notification issued in June warned of the likely increased “targeting of K-12 schools during the COVID-19 pandemic because they represent an opportunistic target as more of these institutions transition to distance learning,” citing “limited resources to dedicate to network defense.”

Many students use devices also used by their parents for work, which creates exponential issues.

Businesses large and small still struggle to fill the cybersecurity skills gap, and that’s been the case for several years; a May 2020 study found that over 76 percent of the cybersecurity leaders they talked to reported a dearth of skilled applicants. The transition to remote work during the pandemic has also led to a spike in phishing attacks and business email compromise scams targeting workers.

“Even NASA has reported a 100% increase in phishing and malware attacks,” said CyberScout founder and chairman Adam Levin of the spike in cyberattacks over the course of the pandemic.

The number of factors introduced by the pandemic has created many vulnerabilities for hackers to exploit, and a massive increase in the attackable surface for families, businesses, and schools alike. 

In addition to the threat of a data breach or leak, the potential for disruptions have increased. A widely covered three-hour Zoom outage, for instance, brought many remote-learning schools and offices to a standstill until service could be restored.