COVID-19 fuels cyber attacks, exposes gaps in business recovery

Some 91% of businesses reported an increase in cyber attacks with employees working from home, including 93% in Singapore, where 89% and 86% also noted gaps in their business recovery planning and IT operations, respectively, as a result of the global pandemic.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

The majority of businesses worldwide have seen a jump in cyber attacks as a result of employees working from home, with most reporting an increase in COVID-19 related malware. In Singapore, the global pandemic also revealed gaps in organisations' disaster recovery plans and IT operations. 

Some 91% of enterprises reported an increase in cyber attacks with more employees working from home amidst the coronavirus outbreak, according to a global survey released Tuesday by VMware Carbon Black. Conducted in March by research firm Opinion Matters, the study polled 3,012 IT and cybersecurity leaders across several markets including Japan, Australia, Germany, the UK, and Singapore, where there were 251 respondents. 

COVID-19 inspired malware saw the highest jump across the globe, with 92% noting an increase in such threats compared to typical volumes before the outbreak. Pandemic aside, 90% reported a climb in cyber attacks over the past year, with 80% noting an increase in the level of sophistication in such threats.

Some 94% said they suffered breaches in the past 12 months, including 100% in Canada and the Netherlands, and 99.6% in the Nordics. In Asia-Pacific, 96% in Australia, 92% in Japan, and 80% in Singapore reported likewise.

Vulnerabilities in OSes were the most common cause of breaches, as cited by 18% worldwide, while island-hopping was the main cause of breaches in markets such as Italy and the Nordics and web application attacks were most common in Canada. 

In Singapore, 43% saw increased attack volumes over the past year, reporting an average 1.67 breaches, and 67% said such threats now were more sophisticated. OS vulnerabilities were the most common cause of breaches, as cited by 20% in the city-state, while 15% pointed to holes in third-party application that led to security breaches. 

Island-hopping attacks also climbed more than three-fold in frequency, with 10% of Singapore companies encountering such attacks and 12% cited these as the cause of breaches. In such tactics, attackers target a larger group to indirectly breach a network, such as an organisation's weaker and less secured community of business partners. 

With added risks from third-party applications and the supply chain, these findings revealed that the extended enterprise was under pressure, according to Rick McElroy, VMware Carbon Black's cyber security strategist. 

The COVID-19 outbreak also unveiled gaps in business recovery planning of 89% in the country, who described such holes as slight to severe. Another 86% uncovered gaps in their IT operations as a result of the pandemic, while 85% identified problems due to a remote workforce and 73.5% had issues related to visibility of cybersecurity threats.

McElroy said: "The global situation with COVID-19 has put the spotlight on business resilience and disaster recovery planning. Those organisations that have delayed implementing multi-factor authentication (MFA) appear to be facing challenges, as 32% of Singaporean respondents say the inability to implement MFA is the biggest threat to business resilience they are facing right now.

"These figures indicate that the surveyed CISOs (chief information security officers) may be facing difficulty in a number of areas when answering the demands placed on them by the COVID-19 situation," he said.

In addition, respondents in Singapore on average used more than 11 different tools or consoles to manage their cybersecurity strategy, indicating a complex and multi-technology environment that grew reactively with security tools bolted on to address evolving threats.

McElroy noted: "Siloed, hard-to-manage environments hand the advantage to attackers from the start. Evidence shows that attackers have the upper hand when security is not an intrinsic feature of the environment. As the cyber threat landscape reaches saturation, it is time for rationalisation, strategic thinking and clarity over security deployment." 

According to the survey, 90% of Singapore respondents planned to up their spending in cyberdefence in the coming year. This, however, was a drop from 99% in the previous October 2019 study who indicated likewise. 


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