IT Security News Quarterly Update - Spring

The unexpected situation of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has dramatically changed the way we need to work and communicate and this has had an impact on our IT security. Experts warn of significant spikes in ransomware attacks and phishing scams during the lockdown period as hackers are developing new ways to reach unsuspecting people. They are taking advantage of the fact that people will be remote working which creates a “perfect storm” of less security and more time spent online. So, for this quarter, Jamie gives you some good advice on what to look out for whilst working from home.

Cyber criminals know many employees are now working remotely; they know that VPN (Virtual Private Network) tunnels across the country have been opened and many of the users that wouldn’t necessarily have been given access, in most cases, now have it. They also know that many people are using old, outdated home equipment to tunnel into their organisation’s networks. Along with the fact that hackers know that internal lines of communication are now compromised, (more so in businesses that aren’t used to their new emergency working arrangements), they also know some people are concerned, scared and confused.

And so, with many more areas vulnerable to being exploited right now, everybody needs to be extra vigilant. Here are some of the e-mails, text messages and concerns that I think employees are likely to come across over the next few weeks whilst we remain in the current situation.

Gov.uk text messages: I’ve specifically mentioned text messages because of the UK-wide text message that the Government sent out recently. It’s inevitable that scam attempts will follow this, potentially claiming to come from “UK_Gov”, “gov.uk” or similar with malicious links in them. These ‘smishing’ attacks (phishing texts) are already being reported so please be very careful.

News alerts: Everyone should pay attention to any News” alerts arriving by e-mail or text message, most specifically about coronavirus and claiming some sort of ‘Breaking News’. Don’t click any links in these e-mails\text messages. Instead, if you want to check on the latest developments, turn on a live news channel or visit a well-known news website: you won’t miss a thing by not instantly clicking a link and instead checking manually.

Furlough information: With all the information around staff being furloughed or unable to work and salary changes happening, many people will inevitably have questions about these subjects. Cyber criminals know this… and I would expect some people to receive fake e-mails asking them to sign up for “furlough information”, for example by clicking a link and entering personal information, or a simple phishing attack to gain credentials. If a company was being targeted, then I would expect a more sophisticated approach from the hackers with the e-mail looking like it came from an MD or someone in the HR department of that company.

Bank details: Be watchful of any communication around bank details. For example, those responsible for salary payments should be aware that they may get requests claiming to come from employees asking them to change bank details for their next salary payment. This one has been around for quite some time, but right now with the communication lines blurred due to staff working from home, I can see this rising. It is imperative that secure company processes and checks are in place for all requests like this and everyone is aware of the communication procedures.

Tax Refunds: There is currently a spate of fake HMRC e-mails going around, specifically advising people of tax refunds and asking them to fill in a quick form. The tax year ended on April 5th, so I’d expect these to be more common and appearing more regularly over the next month or so.

VPN connections: For anyone using a VPN at the moment for remote working, look out for any e-mails claiming to be from your IT Department asking you to update to the latest, most secure version of the VPN software you are using – they could be fake!

Website downloads: Finally, it is worth being especially wary of which websites you visit and resist the urge to download any coronavirus-related apps. It is better to only download apps from official stores and use certified news platforms to receive updates as there have already been reported cases of malware that has been written into so-called COVID-19 applications. Be particularly sceptical of any pop-ups, unfamiliar web pages and spontaneous messages about coronavirus and don't click on suspicious links or give away sensitive information, such as passwords or credit card information if you aren’t a hundred percent sure of the source.

Above all stay safe both online and at home!

Jamie

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