The COVID-19 pandemic is causing unprecedented disruption for businesses around the world, many of which are struggling to overcome the many challenges the outbreak has created.
At Redscan, we’ve set about shining light on some of these challenges by analysing how the crisis has affected online search behaviour in relation to cyber security and technology. The findings provide insight into how well-prepared businesses were for such an incident, the tools organisations are turning to support operations, and potential threats they are facing.
This latest analysis follows the 2019 publication of our Cyber security in Search report, which uses search data to demonstrate how the industry has changed over the last 15 years.
It’s highly recommended that all businesses have a plan to prevent, minimise the damage of, and recover from unplanned events. However, our search analysis calls into question the level of preparedness of many organisations to respond to the impact of COVID-19.
Searches for ‘business continuity plan’ saw a huge spike between 8-21st March 2020, significantly higher than any other time in Google’s history – revealing the extent to which the pandemic has triggered panic.
Risk and business impact assessments to help identify and protect core functions are key activities that should inform every business continuity plan. While it might be tempting to ignore these things during a crisis, considering the long and short-term impact of changes to infrastructure and working practices is essential to avoid creating further problems. The last thing that organisations need is to increase their cyber security risk and leave critical assets vulnerable to cyber-attacks.
One of the key consequences of the Coronavirus outbreak is that millions of employees are now being forced to work from home. Supporting this need has created many new challenges for IT teams. Among them is making sure staff have continual access to systems and applications whilst at the same time ensuring that appropriate controls are in place to secure them.
Our Google Trends research reveals that search interest in “remote working”, “collaboration tools” and “remote access” reached record highs in March as businesses frantically sought solutions to facilitate home working.
To enable employees to work away from the office, many IT teams have rolled out VPN access. Searches for “VPN” saw a significant spike in March and, at the time of writing, VPN is a term more searched for in the UK than “Rishi Sunak”, the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
When it comes to network security, organisations should be particularly mindful of the risks that result from remote employees connecting to corporate networks. As well as ensuring that VPNs are suitably hardened, strict user access management should be enforced and networking protocols such as RDP should be configured so that they are not exposed to the internet. Multi-factor authentication on user accounts is also highly recommended, providing an additional layer of protection should passwords be compromised.
To stay in touch with friends, family and colleagues while social distancing measures are in place, millions of people have been turning to video conferencing and other online collaboration platforms.
Zoom is currently the most searched for online collaboration technology, ahead of GoToMeeting, WebEx, Slack, and Microsoft Teams. Regardless of the solution chosen, organisations must ensure that any tools are properly assessed. This is to ensure that their usage doesn’t result in privacy and compliance failings, introduce security vulnerabilities, and enable ‘Zoombombing’ or other forms of eavesdropping.
Shadow IT is also a significant risk risks for businesses, particularly if employees haven’t been supplied with company equipment and IT teams lack control and visibility of applications in use on personal devices. If not already in place, a remote working security policy can be a useful way for organisations to communicate which tools have been tested and are approved for use.
With employees working remotely and on a range of company–owned and personal devices, the need for organisations to protect endpoints has become even more pressing – attackers are targeting unsecured devices more strongly than ever.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, “antivirus” generated increased search interest in March. However, as Redscan’s original ‘Cyber Security in Search’ report revealed, searches for this term have been on a steady decline for over ten years. This may be in part due to the rise of next–gen Endpoint Protection Platforms (EPP) and Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) tools, although results here are inconclusive. During the Coronavirus outbreak many endpoint security vendors have been offering businesses extended trials of their software.
A reported rise in social engineering scams using COVID-19 as a hook is backed up Google search data. Our analysis reveals that in March, Coronavirus related scams were more searched for than those linked to Apple and Amazon – big brands that are traditionally imitated by scammers.
HMRC phishing scams were also widely searched for, coinciding with the announcement of government measures to help support people and businesses experiencing financial hardship.
During this period, it is important to be especially vigilant when opening and responding to all emails, not just those related to coronavirus. Recipients should carefully analyse all emails to identify warning signs and be particularly cautious when viewing messages on mobile devices which can hide important information about the sender.
What businesses can learn from COVID-19 search data
As our Google Trends analysis highlights, the Coronavirus pandemic is having a profound effect on the way that businesses operate in the UK and across the world. All organisations must be flexible in their response to current challenges and those which lay ahead – but in a way that will also ensure success once measures are relaxed.
For many years, commentators have been speculating that home working is likely to become the future ‘norm’. Coronavirus means that many businesses are having to confront digital transformation much sooner than anticipated. To ensure success in both the short and long term, organisations should carefully consider their options and be mindful of cyber security and technology risks before committing to significant changes. Hopefully in doing so, they will avoid the need to turn to Google in desperation the next time a significant business impacting event occurs.