Four pandemic security risks requiring MSPs’ immediate attention

As more cities and states brace for extended shutdowns, MSPs should be mindful of emerging security risks.

By Mark Whiffen, Senior Product Manager, Barracuda MSP

Mark Whiffen, senior product manager, Barracuda MSP

As COVID-19 re-emerges in many geographies, it looks like work-from-home orders may stay in place for many organizations through the end of the year. Cybercriminals have been staying busy exploiting the vulnerabilities created by the abrupt shift to remote work earlier this year. Perhaps more than ever, MSPs will be front and center in helping their clients manage their remote workforce and ensure they don’t suffer any catastrophic security breaches. 

Here are four key security risks MSPs should keep top-of-mind as we all navigate these unchartered waters.

1. Stay on Top of Patching

Most companies had little time to prepare for the shift to remote work, so a lot of hardware likely got carried home without scheduled updates or security hygiene checks in place. While a distributed workforce makes this more challenging, patches have to be maintained, particularly given the much larger attack vector created by current conditions. 

MSPs should make sure all their customers’ computers have minimum endpoint protection, and that security patches are updated as frequently as possible. Patching should be prioritized, particularly for those related to the remote work infrastructure itself.

If possible, there should be some confirmation that employees’ personal devices and home networks also have adequate protection and are current on security and anti-malware updates, since it’s likely that individuals are using these devices, at times. 

And if companies didn’t have an accurate IT inventory before the pandemic, that challenge has grown exponentially, both because of the physical distribution of assets and the use of personal devices on the corporate network (and vice versa). 

2. Pandemic Phishing 

Phishing attacks have risen dramatically during the pandemic. With employees working in very distracting circumstances, and many of them concerned about staying on top of information related to the pandemic, cybercriminals have adapted their messaging to the times.

Employees are being enticed by phishing messages that involve COVID-19 testing, lockdown dates, contact-tracing, school information and other clickbait. 

Not only are the messages more cleverly crafted, but employees are much more likely to ignore security rules while at home. That means the risk of malware, ransomware, and the potential for sharing confidential files or data has gone up significantly. 

MSPs can help their customers by providing more frequent reminders about security protocols, updates on phishing scams and additional training/testing to ensure compliance.

3. Vulnerable Home Networks and Devices

Because employees are working in a wide variety of circumstances (sometimes sharing networks and devices with spouses and children), access to the corporate network and applications should be secured using multi-factor authentication (MFA) and virtual private network (VPN) connections. Collaboration platforms should also be sufficiently secured.

Employees who regularly handle sensitive information or must adhere to privacy regulations (as in the banking or healthcare industries) also have to manage their physical workspaces under less-than-ideal circumstances. That may entail deploying privacy screens and headsets, for example. 

There will also likely be increased use of company devices for personal activities, which opens up an even higher level of vulnerability. That makes patching even more critical, particularly when it comes to browsers, PDF readers and other applications. 

4. Human Threats

Not only are employees more laid back when it comes to security procedures at home, but they are also vulnerable to schemes that leverage social distancing. Criminals may take advantage of the lack of face-to-face contact to enable fraudulent money transfers, as previous security rules can’t be enforced remotely.

Financial uncertainty can also create personnel threats. If there are layoffs, employees who have gone home with company assets or data and may be tempted to release or sell sensitive information. 

Companies will need to have policies in place related to remote management of employee security credentials, hardware retention and hiring/firing during the pandemic to ensure data security.

All of these risks can create opportunities for MSPs to generate new business, as companies will need help managing the transition. But MSPs themselves will need to stay educated about these evolving threats and make sure they have addressed them internally before they can turn those opportunities into new business.

Mark Whiffen is Senior Product Manager for Barracuda MSP, a provider of security and data protection solutions for managed services providers.