The impact of COVID-19 has changed the way we communicate and transact businesses. Organizations, Educational Institutions and individuals have now been made to get accustomed to new practices such as good hygiene, social distancing and telecommuting. The Information Communication Technology (ICT) sector has also become very vital, to cater for the demands of these telecommuting, so organizations can still effectively function and transact businesses. However, the surge in reliance on ICT Networks has made it more lucrative for cybercriminals to attack ICT networks. Hence the need to be more vigilant and proactive in Network Security practices. This article provides an overview of the Network Security risks organizations could be exposed to during the COVID-19 pandemic and thereafter outlines ways to address these Network Security challenges.
1. Increase of Cyber Risks from Remote Working
Presently a lot of organizations use Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to enable staffs remotely connect to their network, to be able to access organizational data and resources. These VPNs use cryptography to protect sensitive information from unauthorized persons. Most of the time the weak link for attacks on VPN connections are the users. To mitigate vulnerabilities while using VPNs, it is recommended that:
- Administrators use manufacturer’s recommended parameters for VPN configuration
- Strong password policy should be in place to authenticate users accessing the VPN
- Background checks on integrity and high moral standards are continuously done for all Network Administrators
- Organizations frequently run scans on critical systems like firewalls and Active Directories, because if vulnerable can compromise the entire network.
The work from home practice has also made staffs from organizations use their personal computers at home or in public places to perform official functions. These personal computers may lack the required enterprise antivirus software, and suspicious malware activities such as viruses and worms may not be monitored. These could pose as a network security risk to organizations. Remote access necessitates the need for endpoint protection, and some MDAs seem to negate its importance, given that security is as strong as the weakest link. Considering that some MDA staffs may not have the required funding to acquire enterprise antimalware on their personal computers, organizations need to come up with policies on the minimum requirements of systems to log into their internal network, and also make provisions for them. In the case of cellphones logging into internal networks, MDAs can use Mobile Device Managers to be able to control cell phone logins.
In recent times, there have been cases of hacking and vulnerabilities in the use of remote working tools such as videoconferencing for virtual meetings. An example is the reported attacks on Zoom meetings. Users are advised to avoid using default settings and to also adopt other added security features like password protection and waiting rooms. Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) should also be embraced to improve network security.
2. Potential Delays in Detection and Response of Cyber Attacks
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there may be delays in emergency response that requires physical presence or remote connection of Network security staffs, it is recommended that organizations maintain at least a skeletal staff in appropriate areas in case of emergencies that require physical presence of such staff. This should be accompanied with Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Plans.
With a vast majority of employees working from home, as well as students learning virtually, there is a high tendency that the recent increase in online activities, has increased the risks of being exposed to a wide range of cyberattacks. This means that the ICT networks of organizations who are not prepared, are at risks of being compromised. Organizations should always remain vigilant, apply recommended security practices and as well continuously run real-time analysis of their networks to counter network security breaches. In addition, organizations should adopt aggressive patch management to fix security vulnerabilities and bugs.
By: Ugonna Uwaleme, Shirley Modebe and Musa Chinade
National Policies, Strategies and Mandate Projects
Galaxy Backbone Limited.