We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: the pandemic forever changed the way we function. From an increased focus on using hand sanitizer and cleaning up after ourselves in public spaces to a bigger digital presence in practically every meaning of the phrase, the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic’s effect is obvious and will continue to be so for many years to come.
One of the areas in which the pandemic had a big effect on our lives is our relation to the internet. Let’s review a few clear ways that the pandemic impacted this basic aspect of our lives:
People were suddenly unable to travel or even visit family and friends, leading to an increase in posting about their lives online and sharing information that otherwise would have been divulged in person.
Trapped at home and with many people laid off, people spent more and more time on social networks and checking out what others were up to, catching up via video chat, and being altogether more active online.
With tons of free time for practically everyone, people began to think about the ways the internet could help them advance their goals; from online courses to remote work, many people took this chance to see what a digitally-focused world could lead to in the future.
The vast majority of professionals who worked desk jobs were forced to work remotely for months on end in a matter of months without proper protections or at-home offices; this led to sensitive and important corporate information on non-secure servers.
Advised to stay at home and not risk going to the grocery store or any other form of in-person activity such as eating out, people began relying heavily on services that would deliver goods and services right to their front door.
You’re probably familiar with all this--after all, you lived it with the rest of us! But let’s think about what all these aspects have in common: an increased dependence on the internet and an increased willingness to share personal information online. You might think entering your credit card information on a food delivery website is normal, but every time you enter or post any sort of identifying or personal information online, you run the risk of malicious users taking this information and doing what they please with it. And this is a risk that needs to be taken very seriously.
What are Cyber Risks?
Cyber risks have existed for years; it’s certainly not something that emerged in 2020. But what did happen in 2020 was key: more and more people trusting the internet with their personal information and relying on it for basic supplies such as masks, food, water, and more. In addition, user privacy was seriously threatened as the entire young population of the world moved their classes online.
There are lots of cyber risks and new ones are emerging practically every day; however, we can sum up the main ones (and those that gained the most importance in 2020) here:
Phishing attacks have one specific goal: accessing personal and identifying information by posing as a credible and trustworthy source. You’ve probably seen clear attempts at phishing at some point, with poorly written emails with an exaggerated sense of urgency tipping you off. But as artificial intelligence tools, together with natural language processing technology, advance, it’s becoming much easier for phishing attempts to seep through the cracks and convince the user it’s real. With more and more people spending time online, the risk of falling for a phishing scam rose rapidly.
An example of a phishing attack would be a cybercriminal posing as a relative or friend and telling you they’re in trouble and in need of money transferred immediately.
On the other hand, we have ransomware attacks, which is when a user’s system is held hostage by the cybercriminal until they agree to pay a ransom. As we mentioned above, the instant move to remote work left a lot to be desired when it came to at-home security and it took time for companies to adopt VPNs and educate their employees on the risk of working from their personal computer or a public location.
An example of a ransomware attack would be an email sent to your work account impersonating higher management, prompting you to click on a link that would then download the malicious software.
The last common cyber threat is malware, which is similar to ransomware, but has a different objective: instead of trying to get you to pay to regain access to your server, malware seeks to gain access to your server to access the private and important information located on it. Malware is one of the greatest threats to companies who store all of their data on the server, including sensitive company data or private client information.
An example of malware would be if you went to an unsecure or dangerous website on your work computer, where the malware was able to access your software and take control.
Protecting Against Cyber Threats
With the pandemic behind us, it’s time to take what we’ve learned from those chaotic months and move forward, ensuring that our digital assets are properly protected from all kinds of cyber threats. To make sure we cover all of our bases, we’ve broken down our tips for protecting yourself against cyber threats into two areas: personally and professionally.
Personal protection from cyber threats
We put a lot of information on the internet; from pictures of us on our birthdays with our family to entering credit card information online to complete a purchase, it’s kind of astounding how casually we share personal information. And if we start to think about what could happen if that information falls into the wrong hands, the need to take the right steps to protect yourself online becomes even more important.
To protect your personal information from cyber threats, we recommend:
Taking your passwords seriously: it’s definitely easier to use the same password for every account and even easier when it’s something like the name of your first pet or family members. But your passwords block access to incredible amounts of identifying information such as bank information, your personal messages, and your address. It can be tedious to enter a long and complicated password every single time you want to access an account, but it will ultimately lead to a safer internet presence.
Keep up with updates on all your devices and back up your data: your phone and computer (and any other smart device) probably get updates all the time and while updating constantly might be annoying, these updates typically include new security features that are essential for protecting your device.
Educate yourself about potential cyber attacks: cyber attackers are getting good at what they do and they’re more than capable of figuring out which brands and people you trust and imitating them to make you fall for their scam. If you’re unaware of these potential scams or not sure of what the telltale signs are (urgency, spelling/grammar mistakes), it will be much harder to protect yourself from them.
Professional protection from cyber threats
The rise of remote work during the pandemic was welcomed by many: who doesn’t want to get up one minute before work starts or spend all day playing with their dog?! But an unexpected consequence of this was the lack of home security that many have and a new group of challenges.
To protect yourself professionally from cyber threats, we recommend:
Using two-factor authentication: entering a password twice or using another device to authenticate your online access is quite a pain, especially when you were used to just entering your password before. But asking you to verify your information from an entirely separate device means your information is even more secure and hackers won’t be able to log in.
Using VPNs: with employees working remotely from different servers, protecting their access, no matter where they are, has never been more important. VPNs protect their server access, mask their IP address, and encrypt user data. And if you have employees working from different locations, make sure you educate them on the risks of using public WiFi connections.
Educating your team: most cyber risks are relatively new and employees, especially those not in tech, may struggle to understand the importance of taking the right steps towards protecting company information. Inform your team of potential risks, such as phishing attempts and data breaches, to take preventative action before a potential issue becomes a real problem.
The future of cybersecurity is bright, but its recent trajectory has been heavily influenced by the pandemic and the rush of digital advancements seen in recent years. As we continue to let tech run wild and change the way we do pretty much anything, learning to better protect ourselves and our information will become crucial.
If you’re ready to take on the challenge and work to protect the internet from cyber threats, Ironhack’s Cybersecurity Bootcamps are perfectly designed to help you make the most of each and every moment in class, preparing you to enter the workforce immediately after graduation.
What are you waiting for?! We’ll see you in class.