This year has sure posed its challenges. The pandemic and events of 2020 have caused a number of changes to the core fundamentals of everyday life. This year also brought changes to the world of cyber security and information assurance. Remote work and school have brought about a new area of focus and concern for cyber professionals. These are not new concepts, many businesses and schools, especially colleges, have supported remote work and learning environments for years, but never at the scale and magnitude we are all experiencing now. The sheer increase in remote activities has made these systems and environments a top target for exploitation.
Why would hackers target schools, teachers and students? It’s not to drop in on classes for free. The goal is to infiltrate these schools and their systems to steal the personal information of faculty, students, parents, organizations, etc. This information has significant financial value to cyber criminals. The next reason hackers would target educational institutions is to install ransomware, one of the biggest and fastest growing cyber challenges in this pandemic world today.
The important fact to understand is that not only the schools themselves, but teachers and students are also high-potential targets as they remotely access these school systems. This is heightened by the fact that for many organizations and companies, cyber security is often an afterthought, especially when funding is tight. Educational institutions have similar, if not larger, funding challenges in this area. According to this article, the US government has granted billions of dollars for online learning and education systems, but no funding for bolstering networks and cyber security resources. Most remote education works by opening these learning systems from the Internet, almost begging hackers to try and get in.
Remote work is a similar situation. Small businesses to large corporations now have thousands of employees working from home. These workers may or may not be on company controlled computers, laptops, tablets and/or phones, but almost all are utilizing their home networks and residential and wireless service providers. Businesses and large enterprises may not always have the best or strongest network security, but they almost definitely have more defenses in place than the typical home network. This is also an opportunity for infiltration into a company network, and who knows, a successful remote work attack may be someone with elevated privileges on their companies corporate network, aka hacker jackpot. But, even if the employee of a successful hack has limited technical rights on the corporate network, they still potentially need and have access to proprietary company data and information that can then possibly be exfiltrated under the guise of the unknown hack victim.
In order to meet the need and demand of telecommuting and remote work, many companies have turned to outside Internet service providers for their remote work and collaboration capabilities. The biggest first benefactor of the pandemic is probably Zoom. So much so that the product name has become a verb, to “Zoom,” similar to how “Google” is used to mean searching the web. Still, with exponential usage and growth, it did not take a security researcher long (April 2020) to figure out how to infiltrate the booming video teleconferencing company and drop into meetings uninvited. This was just the first of a bevy of issues found throughout the summer. Still usage of Zoom exploded, putting a bigger and bigger target on its back. I highly encourage you to read the article linked above. It’s eye opening into a lot of cyber related issues that happened with a single Internet product over the course of just a couple months (April – July 2020). I can only imagine the “fun” this summer has been for the Zoom cyber security and information assurance engineers and developers.
Still this is just ONE example of a cloud/Internet service that has become a necessity for business (and educators) in our current world. There are many other services that businesses are reliant on for collaboration, productivity production, data/document storage, streaming media, as well as full cloud-based infrastructure and work environments all over the Internet. The benefits of utilizing these services is typically quick and fast implementation and low internal investment and maintenance. However, companies that use these services heavily rely on these providers’ products and system security. Potentially all companies—their data and operations—are at risk when a vulnerability is discovered in one of these online services until the provider mitigates or fixes it (and that is only once they know about it!). I am not telling you not to use these services and systems, I just want you to be aware and think about the potential risks versus the rewards.
At aJuxt, we support businesses from ma and pa shops to large corporations. Regardless of their size they are all at risk of one of the biggest and fastest growing security threats today. As I mentioned earlier, ransomware should be a huge concern for everyone, but especially businesses. Ransomware is exactly what it sounds like, hackers take data and IT systems “hostage,” typically by getting in and encrypting (locking) them up so they cannot be used or accessed until their ransom is paid. Sometimes there is also a threat to publicly release sensitive information if demands are not met. Ransomware has been around pretty much since the beginning of the Internet, but it has grown to one of the main cyber issues since the mid 2000s. It seems like every week we read an article about another large business or corporation falling victim to ransomware resulting in downtime and disruption of operations. The truth is we have seen an increase in this specific type of attack and need to be aware.
Ransomware is similar to COVID, it may not feel like it’s a real threat until it happens to you. There are lots of things you can do to better protect yourself and your business, but some of the most impactful mitigations are from individuals. Not clicking links in suspicious emails or downloading random software are simple preventative measures that a cyber security aware workforce knows and understands.
There is so much data and information that has potential value to hackers from personally identifiable information, to financial data, to even interests and habits. Let us help identify your security risks with a website security review. Call today!
Written by Seth Hellbusch — Site Security Specialist