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Emerging Threats to Remote-First Work: Phishing, Scams and Data Leakage Increase Over 60%

In January of 2020, no one could have predicted the total impact that the COVID-19 pandemic would have on organizations and individuals across the world. To adapt to changing environments caused by stay-at-home orders and work-from-home (WFH) directives, businesses have had to rapidly shift their operating models to a remote-first work environment. With more employees working from home than ever before, security teams have had to adopt new technologies and protocols to enable workers and continue to provide services to customers. 

With that adoption and surge in the use of digital platforms, ZeroFOX has identified an uptick in digital threats targeting those platforms, from phishing to information leakage to fraud and scams. In order to operate securely in this new remote-first work environment, security teams must review previously established security protocols and evolve practices to meet new standards. 

Remote collaboration has quickly become the predominant means of new office culture, and many of us are adapting to the rapid adoption of new tools, new policies, and new realities in business to support collaboration and continued operations. This has required immediate digital transformation for organizations of all sizes. Different organizations entered the COVID-19 pandemic at various stages of digital transformation. Organizations have had to grapple with using platforms they may have hesitated to adopt previously due to security concerns. A lot of security teams, in particular, have been forced to adopt new processes and new technologies seemingly overnight without the luxury of time usually required to evaluate, monitor, or address these risks associated with all of these changes. 

Digital platform usage is on the rise

With more people spending time at home, it’s no surprise they’re spending more time online. Based on a New York Times study, social media usage has risen greatly between January and March 2020, with Facebook usage up 27% and YouTube up 15.3%. Video conferencing tools have seen large increases in usage, with apps like Houseparty up 79.4% in usage. Zoom, in particular, has seen perhaps the greatest surge, jumping from 10 million active users in December 2019 to over 200 million active users in March of 2020. With in-office meetings, school on-campus classes and in-person conferences on hold, organizations have had to rely on video conferencing tools for sensitive and proprietary meetings that require increased security and are a prime target for attackers. 

Digital threats are increasing

The increased adoption of digital platforms, both familiar and new, provides an expanded attack surface for bad actors to leverage. The distinction between work and play platforms is increasingly blurred, and the means of accessing those platforms. 

The World Health Organization has reported an estimated fivefold increase in cyber attacks aligning with the COVID-19 pandemic. Overall digital threat activity targeting ZeroFOX’s customer ecosystem increased 9% between January and April 2020. ZeroFOX observed a 55% increase in successful takedowns between January and April 2020, suggesting a significant increase in legitimate threats facing organizations of all industries.  

Phishing and domain-based attacks

Phishing remains a prevalent tactic used by cyberattackers across platforms, from websites, to email to social media. As more internet users seek resources and access the web, malicious websites and phishing attempts have increased in response. ZeroFOX’s customer ecosystem saw a 68% increase in malicious domain takedowns between January and April 2020, suggesting a clear influx in malicious domain creation overall. Phishing attacks in particular have increased 125% as the audience of internet users cyberattackers are able to reach has increased along with WFH mandates. 

Data leakage 

With an increased reliance on digital platforms to communicate and share information, ZeroFOX has monitored a substantial increase in leaked, sensitive data across the public attack surface. Between January and April 2020, ZeroFOX identified a 145% increase in sensitive data leakage and a 32% increase in data breaches. As more internet users are shopping online and employees are relying on public platforms to perform their jobs, more sensitive information is being shared, offering attackers the opportunity to steal, leak and sell everything from credit card numbers, account credentials to PII.

Fraud and scams 

From online shopping to streaming tv shows and movies, attackers have identified users’ online behavior and have begun targeting those services with scams and other fraudulent activity. Streaming services in particular have been hit with scams and phishing sites promising free access, when in reality these tactics are used to steal login information and credit card numbers.

ZeroFOX has identified a 60% increase in fraud and scam incidents online between January and April 2020. In response, ZeroFOX has also experienced a 40% increase in successful takedowns of these malicious posts.

What security practitioners can do

With stay-at-home and remote work/WFH policies in full effect, security teams must adapt protocols to meet these new standards and address the risks outlined above. With both digital platform usage and digital threat activity on the rise, security teams must first make themselves aware of the inevitable vulnerabilities these platforms possess and prepare their employees and whole organizations to work securely in this new normal. 

Read the full report

Understanding the threats facing your organization in this rapidly changing environment is the first step towards protecting your employees and brand online. ZeroFOX compiled four steps security professionals can take today to address these emerging threats that have resulted from this remote-first environment. Read the full report and feel free to share your own experiences adapting security policies and procedures with us and on social media. Download the report here

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