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Cyber Risks & Liabilities

By: Dan Reith
Principal Broker
Reith & Associates Insurance and Financial Services Limited

COVID-19’s Impact on Cyber Threat Activity

Cybersecurity crisis emerged as a result of the 2020 global health crisis as cybercriminals posed an increased threat to the safety of individuals and organizations. Experts are seeing an uptick in cyber threat activity as workforces continue to move to the digital landscape.

Increased Individual Attacks

In 2020, cybercriminals capitalized on fear surrounding the pandemic by producing COVID-19-related scams that trick victims into opening malicious links and attachments. Cybercriminals create fake COVID-19-related content, such as local and regional health updates, or knowledge of cures and treatments. The pandemic has created an opportunity for cybercriminals to exploit human curiosity and concern, which has led to an increase in cyberattack victims.

There’s also been an increase in phishing scam campaigns where cyber threat actors craft convincing copies of government websites and official correspondence. These attacks prey upon populations who are anxious and less likely to be skeptical of emails and other links regarding COVID-19.

Increased Organizational Attacks

As cybercriminals continue to exploit human vulnerability and individual fears surrounding COVID-19, the sudden increase in organizations with employees working from home has allowed cybercriminals to capitalize on cloud-based technologies that didn’t exist before. Research has found that companies became less secure in 2020 due to hastily deployed remote work solutions.

The Canadian Centre for Cyber Security predicts that ransomware will continue to target health care and medical research facilities as the global health sector continues to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic. Cybercriminals taking advantage of the health crisis have the ability to jeopardize patient outcomes and public health efforts.

Another ransomware trend that emerged in 2020 is known as “double extortion,” where cybercriminals maximize their chance of a profit by threatening additional abuse of the compromised data, including auctioning or selling it.

It’s more important than ever that organizations take a proactive approach to their cybersecurity measures as well as educate employees on the risks of cyber threat activity.

Human Error as a Cybersecurity Threat

The IBM Cyber Security Intelligence Index Report found that human error is a major contributing cause in 95 per cent of cybersecurity breaches. Human errors are unintentional actions or a lack of actions by employees and users that cause or allow a security breach to happen.

Human error can typically be separated into two categories:

  1. Skill-based errors—These errors occur when a user makes a small mistake when performing familiar tasks and activities. While they know what the end result is supposed to be, they make an error due to memory lapse, mistake or negligence.
  2. Decision-based errors—This type of error occurs when a user makes a faulty decision as a result of not having the necessary level of knowledge, not having enough information about the specific circumstance or not realizing inaction is a type of decision.

These mistakes and lapses in judgment can lead to cybersecurity attacks that put organizations in jeopardy. Cybercriminals know that technical security measures are only effective when humans properly utilize them.

The following are examples of how human error can be exploited:

  • Misdelivery—Misdelivery is a common threat to corporate data security and happens when a user sends something to the wrong recipient. Employees should take care to double-check all fields of information before hitting send.
  • Password issues—According to the National Centre for Cyber Security, 123456 is the most popular password in the world, and 45 per cent of people have the same password for multiple online services. Strong, unique passwords should be encouraged among employees.
  • Patching—Software developers are constantly working to detect exploits in programs and send software updates when one is discovered. Users and employees should immediately implement the update to remain protected against threats.

Addressing human error is key to reducing an organization’s chance of being successfully targeted. Educating workforces on mitigating cybersecurity threats can empower them to actively look out for and report new threats they may encounter.

What Is a Deepfake and What Is at Risk?

A deepfake refers to a doctored video or audio recording that looks and sounds like the real thing. While manipulating video is nothing new, deepfake technology could give anyone the ability to distribute misleading and false information.

As technology advances, it’s becoming harder to discern what is real or fake on the internet, and machine learning models are beginning to have trouble detecting the forgery. While there are certain signs that make it easy for the naked eye to spot a deepfake, including a lack of eye blinking or shadows that look wrong, experts predict that deepfakes will continue to advance in sophistication. Soon, the utilization of digital forensics will be the only possibility for detection.

If deepfakes become unidentifiable, it could lead to inherent mistrust and jeopardize faith in a shared, objective reality. In addition, there is the threat of those who might seek to weaponize this technology for political or malicious purposes.