More than ever before, as pandemic conditions persist, the threat of data breaches and cyberattacks continues to grow, according to SFU professor Michael Parent. (Pixabay photo)

More than ever before, as pandemic conditions persist, the threat of data breaches and cyberattacks continues to grow, according to SFU professor Michael Parent. (Pixabay photo)

SFU expert unveils 5 ways the COVID-19 pandemic has forever changed cybersecurity

Recognizing these changes is the first in a series of steps to mitigate them once the pandemic ends, and before the next: Michael Parent

  • Mar. 6, 2021 8:46 a.m.

By Michael Parent, Professor, Management Information Systems, Simon Fraser University

More than ever before, as pandemic conditions persist, the threat of data breaches and cyberattacks continues to grow.

COVID-19 has permanently changed organizational culture and behaviour. Recognizing these changes is the first in a series of steps to mitigate them once this pandemic ends, and before the next.

As we enter the second year of the pandemic and temporary measures seem more permanent, there are five ways that cybersecurity has forever been altered:

1. Working from home

What began as a temporary measure to isolate employees in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 has morphed into a more permanent, even desirable situation for some. Employees have relocated to rural locales, implemented flexible work hours and begun to relish the absence of hours-long commutes.

For enterprises, it means that every home office, work nook or kitchen table potentially becomes a shared office space. Organizations now effectively have hundreds of satellite offices whereas before COVID-19, they may have had none.

It’s no wonder, then, that the FBI reports cybercrime has tripled since the start of the pandemic. Not only are there more targets for hackers to access, but they are also, in many cases, not nearly as defended as enterprise computing environments. Employees are also dealing with many more emails and messages, which increases the odds that they will inadvertently click on a phishing email.

Each organization is only as strong as the weakest, unprotected home router in its highly distributed network. It is difficult for IT to enforce standards, and to ensure that all devices and software are up-to-date and secure.

Working from home on the scale produced by pandemic public health measures has led to many uncontrolled, unmonitored and insecure access points, making organizations even more vulnerable.

2. Meeting virtually

Love it or hate it, the virtual meeting is here to stay. Long touted as an efficient and cost-effective way to gather, e-meetings have now come into their own out of sheer necessity. To some, it is a blessing: no more pointless, mind-numbing, low-productivity committee meetings (or if there are, multitasking is easier and there is no commute required).

For others, though, the richness of face-to-face communication is lost, as are opportunities for informal but often important conversations. It becomes more challenging to relate to one another, especially for newcomers to the organization. Zoom fatigue is real, distractions are inevitable and performance suffers. Paradoxically, employees end up spending more time meeting on a virtual platform than perhaps they ever did before. “You’re muted” has become a rallying cry!

The pandemic has led to more virtual meetings and a resulting loss in productivity, culture and communications richness. The lower the perceived value of the meeting, the more likely it is to remain online post-pandemic.

3. Keeping data private

Pre-pandemic, consumers were most concerned that their personal information would be stolen by hackers. While this concern remains, the growth in online commerce means that we are forced to share our data and create online profiles for virtually every product and service consumed; even hairdressers, if still operating, often require customers to create online accounts to book appointments and virtually sign COVID-19 waivers ahead of services.

However, consumers are more concerned about the uses of their data now and after the pandemic. There is a call from the American Bar Association, among others, for individuals to own and control their data, and to obtain credible assurances that they will only be used for the purposes agreed to, not sold without permission, and deleted, discarded and destroyed at their wish.

Data ownership has permanently changed, and government regulations need to be in place and enforceable to protect consumer information and guarantee privacy. Consumers should be confident that organizations have data destruction or erasure protocols in place to protect their privacy when they no longer wish to transact with the organization.

4. Redefining culture

Culture is often an organization’s most powerful asset. It has the power to catalyze and create long-term value (financial and otherwise) in organizations. Culture binds employees to each other and to a purpose.

Many scholars and practitioners have studied, commented on and codified corporate culture.

Culture is transmitted in a number of formal and informal ways, explicitly and tacitly: face-to-face meetings when employees chat, corporate events, orientation days and informal socializing during and after hours. Pandemic health measures have constrained this communication. Acculturation — the acquisition of and acceptance into the organization’s culture — has become even more of a challenge.

Employees may feel alienated, alone and adrift. Their organization’s culture itself may have changed. As a result, creating and sustaining a culture that promotes high performance may become challenging when rich, interpersonal interactions are constrained.

Post-pandemic, it will be challenging to recover an organization’s culture and to develop a new one that takes into account the post-COVID reality.

5. Managing and controlling transformation

Management controls are one side of a two-sided coin, the flip side being risk. Systems are designed, implemented and monitored to ensure that risks are eliminated, mitigated or accepted. Before COVID-19, businesses had developed contingency plans for a variety of risks which, ironically, even included pandemics.

Pressures to accelerate digital transformation have led to early adoption of technologies like artificial intelligence. These technologies are not without their risks, as a number of recent incidents have shown.

However, during this pandemic, we have realized that even the most extreme events became likely. As a result, principal risk integration and the newly realized goal of supply chain resilience have gone well beyond the bounds of the organization to include all elements of the supply chain and an organization’s many stakeholders.

Cybersecurity

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

South Surrey’s Paul Cottrell, who works with the DFO, tows a grey whale out of Semiahmoo Bay Sunday. (Contributed photo)
Dead whale floating near White Rock towed to shore for necropsy

Animal has been dead since at least April 15

Dr. Bonnie Henry gives her daily media briefing regarding Covid-19 for the province of British Columbia in Victoria, B.C, Monday, December 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
BREAKING: Toddler marks youngest British Columbian to die related to COVID-19

Child one of eight people to die from virus this weekend

Vehicles line up for the Greater Vancouver Drive-Thru Food Truck Festival at the Chilliwack Coliseum parking lot on March 27. The touring event comes to Cloverdale this weekend, April 24-25 (Photo: Jenna Hauck/Chilliwack Progress)
Here are the food trucks coming to Cloverdale for a drive-thru festival this weekend

Nine trucks will be parked Saturday, nine Sunday during event at fairgrounds

Pharmacist Barbara Violo arranges all the empty vials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines that she has provided to customers at the Junction Chemist which is a independent pharmacy during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto, on Monday, April 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Parts of Surrey, North Delta to get AstraZeneca vaccines for people ages 40+

A total of seven communities in Surrey and Delta will be targeted

Delta police were called to a possible stabbing in the 8100-block of Scott Road at around 6 p.m. on Sunday afternoon (April 18, 2021). (Shane MacKichan photo)
Two arrested after man stabbed in North Delta parking lot

The incident took place in the 8100-block of Scott Road at around 5:15 p.m. on Sunday, April 18

Public health restrictions on non-essential travel and vacation bookings are being increased in B.C. (B.C. government)
Out-of-region B.C. vacation bookings, RV ferry reservations to be refused, Horgan says

B.C. extends COVID-19 indoor dining, group fitness ban until May 25

Families of two of three workers killed in a train derailment near Field, B.C., in 2019 have filed lawsuits accusing Canadian Pacific of gross negligence. The derailment sent 99 grain cars and two locomotives off the tracks. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Families of workers killed in Field train derailment allege negligence in lawsuit

Lawsuits allege the workers weren’t provided a safe work environment

(New Westminster Police)
4 youth arrested after 30-person brawl in New Westminster leaves 1 seriously injured

Police are looking for witnesses who saw the incident take place

Sunday’s storm rocked one of the ferries crossing Kootenay Lake. Photo: Dirk Jonker
VIDEO: Storm makes for wild ferry ride across Kootenay Lake

The video was captured by ferry employee Dirk Jonker

Chakalaka Bar & Grill remains open in defiance of orders from Island Health to close. (Cole Schisler photo)
B.C. health authority seeks injunction against restaurant defying COVID-19 orders

Chakalaka Bar and Grill plans to continue serving customers without public health compliance

The Abbotsford Centre has the ability to host AHL level games if the Vancouver Canucks or any other NHL team chose to move its affiliate to the arena. (File photo)
Abbotsford Centre ready for AHL if right opportunity presents itself

Building recently upgraded glass and boards, schedule would allow for AHL tenant

A defeat Sunday in Kamloops tied up the Giants and Blazers for the most wins this season. Each team has notched seven victories in the B.C. division play unfolding this season on ice in Kamloops and Kelowna. (Allen Douglas/Special to Black Press Media)
VIDEO: Giants record fifth shutout of the season

Vancouver G-Men take down Kamloops Blazers on home ice Sunday, 4-0

Carver Ken Sheen had almost finished work on a large cowboy carving commissioned by the City of Williams Lake to replace the original overlooking the Stampede Grounds when fire broke out Friday, April 18 at his property between Williams Lake and Quesnel. (Pine River Carving Facebook photos)
Cow boss statue destined for Williams Lake Stampede Grounds goes up in flames

Carver Ken Sheen lost the statue, all his tools and his shop in the blaze

Most Read