Public fear leads to hacking opportunities
The rise of COVID-19 has seen a significant change in the way many industries and corporations conduct their day to day work. While remote working arrangements are not new, we are seeing more employees than ever moving to such arrangements across the globe leading to many companies scrambling to set-up adequate IT systems and provide access to the basic work tools needed to conduct their jobs efficiently.
At the same time, we are seeing a significant increase in cybercrimes exploiting existing vulnerabilities as well as new vulnerabilities arising out of the increase in remote working arrangements. Cyber incidents have been tailored to the pandemic with malware circulating in the form of phone applications updating users on incidents of the virus as well as phishing emails claiming to be sent by major health organizations around the world.
Important issues must be addressed
It is important for companies to implement clear remote working policies and procedures. Some of the issues include the following:
- Ensuring that all employee devices are up to date with anti-virus software and that all appropriate training has been provided to current and new joiners on how to identify phishing emails and what information should or should not be divulged over email.
- Avoiding the opening or sending of documents that may contain sensitive materials while connected on personal devices or connected on public WiFi networks. Companies should already have clear protocols in place should they allow employees to use personal devices for business purposes.
- Keeping a watchful eye on money transfers and always validating beneficiary details before making payments. This is a common and easy target for cyber-criminals and we expect invoice redirection and change of bank details to heavily increase during this period.
- Allowing employees access to company-owned Virtual Private Networks and ensuring appropriate storage and back-up of all key digital files. This is especially an issue where companies use outdated VPN’s and do not utilize multi-factor authentication for log-in purposes.
- Ensuring that any phone calls or video calls are taken and conducted in a private forum to ensure confidentiality of the conversations.
- Dealing with confidential information in particular where such information may have been printed or provided in hard copy and where there is no easy access to appropriate facilities to dispose of such documents.
As highlighted earlier, many organizations are rapidly adopting new technology that either was not a necessity prior to COVID-19 or has now become accessible. The latter is particularly relevant as the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (“TRA”) in the UAE has, on a temporary basis, allowed the usage of VoIP applications such as Zoom and Google Hangouts and VoIP features on communication platforms such as Microsoft Teams.
It is important that companies provide clear and accurate directions to all staff on how to use any new technology platforms to ensure that any potential exposure to cyberthreats is reduced. Issuing regular cybersecurity reminders to employees must become a necessity and it is vital that a clear strategy to respond to any potential threats is in place and tested.
DFSA an early-mover in reducing threats
It is timely that the Dubai Financial Services Authority (“DFSA”) launched in January of this year their new cyber threat intelligence platform with the aim to facilitate the detection of cyberattacks and ensure that all firms regulated and supervised by the DFSA have a platform on which to share any credible intelligence on potential cyber threats.
This platform is unique in the UAE and offers a good example of what could become a widely adopted model in several other free zones and jurisdictions in the Middle East. The threat of cyberattacks are especially concerning for regulated entities in the DFSA as they may be exposed to serious liability should a cyber attack occur and data is stolen or services are interrupted. Authorized individuals may also bear a certain amount of liability and face enforcement action by the DFSA in specific circumstances.
We will continue to monitor any relevant cybersecurity developments related to COVID-19.
Authored by Senior Associate Nadim Bardawil