TEL AVIV/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – As people disperse to their homes to work and study because of the coronavirus pandemic, taking their laptops and company data with them, cyber security experts say hackers will follow, seeking to take advantage and infiltrate corporations.
Government officials in the United States, Britain and elsewhere have issued warnings about the dangers of a newly remote workforce, while tech companies are seeing surges in requests to help secure out-of-office employees. At Cisco Systems Inc, for example, the number of requests for security support to support remote workforces have jumped 10-fold in the last few weeks.
“People who have never worked from home before are trying to do it and they are trying to do it at scale,” said Wendy Nather, a senior advisor with Cisco’s Duo Security who has spent the past decade working from home for various jobs.
She said the sudden transition would mean more scope for mistakes, more strain on information technology staff, and more opportunity for cyber criminals hoping to trick employees into forking over their passwords.
Criminals are dressing up password-stealing messages and malicious software as coronavirus-themed alerts, warnings, or apps. Some researchers have found hackers masquerading as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a bid to break into emails or swindle users out of bitcoin, while others have spotted hackers using a malicious virus-themed app to hijack Android phones.
Last week researchers at Israeli company Check Point discovered suspected state-backed hackers using a booby-trapped coronavirus update to try to break into an unidentified Mongolian government network.
On Friday U.S. cyber security officials released an advisory warning companies to update their Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and be on guard against a surge of malicious emails aimed at an already disoriented workforce. On Tuesday, Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre issued a six-page leaflet for businesses managing remote employees.
Cyber criminals are alert to the work from home trend “and they are doing what they can to use it to infiltrate into organizations,” said Esti Peshin, head of the cyber division at state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries, Israel’s largest defense contractor.