Coronavirus Reactions Creating Major Internet Security Risks

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As vast numbers of people are suddenly working from home in reaction to the coronavirus pandemic, doctors switch to heavy use of video office visits, and in general more critical information than ever is suddenly being thrust onto the Internet, the risks of major security and privacy disasters that will long outlast the pandemic are rising rapidly. 

For example, the U.S. federal government is suspending key aspects of medical privacy laws to permit use of “telemedicine” via commercial services that have never been certified to be in compliance with the strict security and privacy rules associated with HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). The rush to provide more remote access to medical professionals is understandable, but we must also understand the risks of data breaches that once having occurred can never be reversed.

Sloppy computer security practices that have long been warned against are now coming home to roost, and the crooks as usual are way ahead of the game.  

The range of attack vectors is both broad and deep. Many firms have never prepared for large-scale work at home situations, and employees using their own PCs, laptops, phones, or other devices to access corporate networks can represent a major risk to company and customer data. 

Fake web sites purporting to provide coronavirus information and/or related products are popping up in large numbers around the Net, all with nefarious intents to spread malware, steal your accounts, or rob you in other ways.

Even when VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) are in use, malware on employee personal computers may happily transit VPNs into corporate networks. Commercial VPN services introduce their own risk factors, both due to potential flaws in their implementations and the basic technical limitations inherent in using a third-party service for such purposes. Whenever possible, third-party VPN services are to be avoided by corporate users, and these firms and other organizations using VPNs should deploy “in-house” VPN systems if they truly have the technical expertise to do so safely.

But far better than VPNs are “zero trust” security models such as Google’s “BeyondCorp” (https://cloud.google.com/beyondcorp), that can provide drastically better security without the disadvantages and risks of VPNs.

There are even more basic issues in focus. Most users still refuse to enable 2-factor (aka “2-step”) verification systems (https://www.google.com/landing/2step/) on services that support it, putting them at continuous risk of successful phishing attacks that can result in account hijacking and worse. 

I’ve been writing about all of this for many years here in this blog and in other venues. I’m not going to make a list here of my many relevant posts over time — they’re easy enough to find. 

The bottom line is that the kind of complacency that has been the hallmark of most firms and most users when it comes to computer security is even less acceptable now than ever before. It’s time to grow up, bite the bullet, and expend the effort — which in some cases isn’t a great deal of work at all! — to secure your systems, your data, and yes, your life and the lives of those that you care about.

Stay well.

–Lauren–