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Market Trends
8 min

The rise in Cybersecurity problems: have they been a barrier or enabler to Work From Home?

Cybersecurity problems and their role in Work From Home

Nov 30, 2022

Cybersecurity threats: What are they and how to tackle them? 

Imagine that you’re at work and receive an email about an invoice that is yet to be paid. The email asks you to make the payment now and tells you to do so as a matter of urgency. But, you’re thinking ‘I never purchased this service, and neither did anyone in my company.’ Would you click on the link to pay? Be careful, as these could be phishing emails. A phishing email is defined as a form of a cyber attack in which an attacker masks themselves as a reputable entity in emails or other forms of communication. In fact, these emails are just one part of the bigger picture of cybersecurity threats.

Cybersecurity threats are a topic that encompasses everything from receiving hateful comments online to losing data on your device, to receiving a virus or malware on your computer. A lot of these threats started to increase during the course of the pandemic. When a lot of us shifted to work from home or remote work, did we realise the magnitude as well as the kinds of threats we would receive? Research conducted by William Dutton, Oxford Martin Fellow at Global Cyber Security Capacity Centre (GCSCC), University of Oxford, suggests that not a lot of ‘Internet Users’ had the cybersecurity mindset to anticipate and avoid these risks in the future. 

If you do not have the proper knowledge to tackle cyber threats, then do not worry. Your employer can educate you on many of these threats and ideally, they should have systems in place to manage them. If you’re unsure of the term Cybersecurity, it can be loosely defined as protecting various computer systems from unauthorised access or thefts. It also includes protection against malware, viruses, phishing scams, and much more. Now that we have a basic idea of what cybersecurity means, let’s get into some tips to identify and manage these risks at your workplace or at home:

  1. Use a password manager like LastPass or Google’s free Password manager to ensure your login credentials are safe
  2. Install an antivirus or malware protection software. For more information, check out the National Cyber Security Centre’s guidance on this topic.
  3. When working from home, make sure your devices are as secure as those at the workplace
  4. Make sure you’re connected to a secure internet connection
  5. Be wary of suspicious-looking emails i.e. phishing scams or other fraudulent emails 
  6. Learn about cybersecurity threats and keep yourself up to date through training courses, especially if you’re an IT professional.

For organisations looking to address and manage cyber threats, Forbes recently published an article on how Cybersecurity problems should be addressed by organisations. The article explains how data breaches are not just a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’ and goes into an interview with Sean Cantwell, a managing partner at Volition, a growth equity firm that is looking to invest in startups that excel in cybersecurity management systems. As a general guideline, it’s a good idea to have a conversation with your employer about how to manage cybersecurity threats. 

As part of a collaborative survey research project with the team at Oxford’s Global Cybersecurity Capacity Centre (GCSCC), we examined the general rise in Cybersecurity threats during the pandemic. The research took two approaches: in-depth interviews conducted with IT officers at major institutions and a global survey of 7330 adults. Our survey methodology consisted of administering the survey through our proprietary AI-driven technology. The survey, taking place from the period of 22 June to 2 September 2022 and covering 133 countries, focused on collecting sentiments from respondents about cybersecurity issues and their workplace. In the next section, let’s look at the respondent’s profiles and where they came from. 

The global Cybersecurity survey powered by insights from 7330 vetted professionals 

The global distribution of verified survey respondents was spread across eight regions (while 1% preferred not to answer), with the majority of them coming from Latin America and the Caribbean. Some demographics of the vetted survey respondents are listed below (see slide 7): 

  1. 86% of surveyed respondents were between the ages of 18 and 44 
  2. They were gender-balanced, with 55% identifying as male and more than 50% living with at least one child 
  3. Approximately 11% of respondents held a master's or doctoral degree while most frequently (36%), they held a bachelor’s degree 

Now that we’ve looked into the demographic of the survey respondents, let’s have a look at the key issues that they faced relating to cybersecurity. 

Overview of the Cybersecurity Problems faced by the respondents

The research attempts to answer questions related to Cybersecurity issues faced by people while working remotely or working from home. For example, what were the most prominent cybersecurity issues faced before, during, and after the pandemic began to lessen? Not only does the research address this question, but it also looks into who are those facing the most cybersecurity issues. 

The research finds that in general, cybersecurity problems show an increasing trend before, during, and after the pandemic (slide 19). The kinds of problems faced by the respondents included:

  1. Receiving abusive or obscene emails
  2. Receiving a virus malware or other suspicious software 
  3. Seeing unsolicited cruel or hateful images online 
  4. Being a victim of online fraud or a scam
  5. Losing data such as passwords or other personal information
  6. Being tricked into opening a fraudulent email or file
  7. Losing data on their computers or devices 

For information, a virus or spyware can be defined as a computer program that can copy itself and affect a device without the permission or knowledge of the user. The data from the research showed that the largest jump i.e. increase was in problem number 4 which is being a victim of a scam or a fraud online (an approximate 10% jump from before the pandemic to the current period of the study). On the other hand, losing data on computers or devices was roughly constant at 7% before, during, and after the pandemic. 

Another initial finding from the research tells us that Cybersecurity issues did peak during the pandemic (slide 20). Here, the four issues that the survey respondents answered were:

  1. Being a victim of online identity theft
  2. Being harassed or bullied online
  3. Being tricked into providing personal information online 
  4. Believing that somebody accesses your social media or email account 

As seen from the graph above, all four issues peak during the time of the pandemic. Why is this the case? The pandemic was labelled as the biggest Cybersecurity attack of all time in 2021. From HMRC shutting down numerous fraudulent shops and online websites in 2019 to a $60 million hacking scam carried out by two Indonesian hackers in 2021, it’s not hard to see why this peak took place in that time period.

Some other Cybersecurity findings from the research

The research explored ‘Security’ and ‘Privacy’ problems pertaining to cybersecurity issues at the workplace. Roughly 20% of respondents reported that they face security issues while WFH, while approximately 15% stated that they faced this problem at the office. This percentage was slightly above 20% for those working in decentralised workspaces. For more on decentralised work, check our recent blog post that explores this topic in more detail. The piece titled ‘The Nature of Changing Workplaces: How has COVID-19 affected the way that we work?’ is the second in a series of blog posts about our partnership with Oxford University. Switching gears to privacy problems, we see similar statistics. About 20% of respondents said that they face privacy issues while WFH. A little more than 20% of respondents who work in the office also stated the same. This figure was at 25% for those work worked in decentralised work centres (the slides containing these figures can be found here). 

What will be interesting to see from the upcoming research is the overlap or common tensions between security and privacy problems. In addition, did respondents feel like they had security without privacy or vice-versa? Which issue did they place higher importance on? 

There’s more to come….

The team at Oxford is developing a report with descriptive results of the survey and a collection of analytical studies exploring the reasons behind the general rise of cybersecurity problems during the pandemic. In addition, the team is looking into whether this increase in problems was at all related to security issues faced while people worked from home during the pandemic. Some initial results are available at this link. Another blog titled Changing Workplaces: Implications for Cybersecurity is available here. Stay tuned for more on this research and follow us on LinkedIn to know more. 

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