At this point, many companies have instituted work at home policies. And, assuming that the organizations have taken the right steps to secure their remote workers and increase their bandwidth to handle the increased loads and redundancies, business can get back to the new normal, correct?
Not quite. The key to managing remotely is communication. And I’m not talking about emails from the company referencing COVID-19. I’m talking about ongoing communication that keeps the staff engaged, strengthens the culture and overcomes isolation.
There are many ways to do this. Here are a few you can do right away.
Daily virtual standup meetings. Have your teams jump on a video call same time each day to have a quick chat about what went well and what blockers have come up since the prior days call. Make it video so people can see each other which improves the socialization aspect of the meeting.
Catch them doing something good. Each day call out someone for doing something well, especially if it involves helping clients or each other. Support is now a key differentiator and it should be rewarded.
Conduct white-hat phishing exercises. Phishing hasn’t gone away. In fact, COVID-19 has given the bad guys something else to use a lure. Keep your team digitally aware by running phishing simulations, but let them know you are doing it and reward them for any phish they report. That way you both sensitive the team to be on the lookout for suspicious emails and keep them positively engaged at the same time.
Step up security training for privileged users. With the changes to network access and perhaps the installation of additional technologies to support remote access, it is critical you spend the time with your systems, application and network teams on security role-based training to ensure that the assets are appropriately configured. Misconfiguration poses a large cyber threat in the best of times; even more so now. Of course, make sure you are catching them doing something good, as well. (See #2 above.)
Create standing “tea-times”. Let’s face it, part of working together is socialization. For teams not used to working remotely (and therefore not used to connecting with each other on a social basis remotely), carve out some time each day which permits them to reach out and talk to each other about whatever they want. You don’t have to over engineer this, giving permission might be all you need to do.
The resilience of an organization’s ability to respond to any challenge is in no small part due to the strength and resilience of its culture. Focusing on, communicating with, and recognizing your staff will go a long way to keep people working together. Even when they’re apart.
One can argue about the steps taken so far with regards to the coronavirus, but perhaps no other report has had an impact on what the United States is now doing to curb the spread of the virus than the report published on March 16 by the UK’s Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team. In plain, stark language, the report warns of the dangers of doing nothing and emphasizes that if we want to minimize mortality rate “combining all four interventions (social distancing of the entire population, case isolation, household quarantine and school and university closure) is predicted to have the largest impact.”
Key to this is case isolation and household quarantine, both of which are containment measures. Containment requires, at minimum identification (you have to know who is symptomatic to make sure they are isolated and you have to know who the symptomatic were in contact with to make sure they are quarantined) and communication (you have to know whether you’ve been in contact with someone if you are to self-quarantine).
The technologies exist to help both identification and communication, but at a potential cost to privacy. There’s the impact on privacy to the symptomatic individual, those with whom they have been in contact, and even locations (towns, neighborhoods, stores) through which the person traveled. These risks are not insubstantial. In the case of individuals, it could result in stigmatization, harassment, and even physical threats (if not harm); in the case of locations, it could result in severe economic losses and stigmatization itself. The key to leverage technology with containment is to identify potential privacy risks and embed privacy practices into the technology to minimize those risks.
The MIT Media Lab is doing just this. Yesterday, they released an open-source application called Private Kit: Safe Paths which uses your phone to track your location data and uses that to trace where symptomatic individuals have been and share that information to others so that they can determine whether they may have been in contact with those individuals. And, the app does it in a privacy-preserving way. The app works like this: it first logs your phone’s location data, but keeps it on your phone so that you retain possession of it. If you are diagnosed, you have the choice to consent to sharing your location data with health officials who can make it public. Ultimately, the app will share symptomatic location data with others without the middleman of a health authority so that one can see if they have been in recent contact with anyone who has been symptomatic. It’s a powerful tool that has the potential to have a material impact on containment efforts.
Of particular interest, is the whitepaper MIT developed on this application that outlines the various privacy risks pertaining to containment and how Private Kit addresses them. The report provides an instruction lesson to any organization conduct privacy risk assessments or evaluating privacy controls relative to GDPR or CCPA regulations or to better serve the needs of its constituents.
When confronted with the enormity of something like the coronavirus, its both critical and refreshing to know that we don’t have to throw out our rights to deal with it. After all, in battling something like this virus, we are not only defending our selves, we are preserving the very freedoms that define who we are.
With COVID-19, all businesses are getting their bearings in uncharted territory. Trying to work through the changing restrictions. Managing remote work forces. Adapting to changing client needs.
As you go through your business continuity checklist or contingency plans, don’t forget to include your suppliers and related third parties in your considerations. You might have the resources to weather this, but do they? And, if a critical vendor to your supply chain is unable to deliver what does that do to your ability to deliver?
Make sure you take the time to evaluate your supply chain. If you haven’t done so already, at minimum, take these steps:
Prioritize your supply chain vendors: Go through all your vendors and ask yourself what would happen to your business if the vendor could not deliver. Prioritize each vendor based on the risk they pose to you should their commitments fall through.
Get on the phone with your highest risk vendors. Talk with them about this current situation. Learn what strategies they have in place to respond to any potential disruptions to their workforce, operations or critical third-parties they have. Get details and be prepared to probe as if they were part of your business. Because, after all, they are.
Treat those vendors like a partner. At this point, you need each other. Be prepared to restructure deals or assist in other ways to help your vendor keep up its commitments. It will help you keep clients and pay off in spades down the road.
Don’t let quality control fall by the wayside. When stretched, certain things might fall short. However, at the end of the day, you want to make sure you are delivering a reliable product to your customers. Make sure you continue to do the right things to ensure your vendors are providing a quality product.
Make contingencies. Some vendors will be there with you and for you (and you for them). Some will not be able to. It’s important to review the contractual commitments you have and to explore alternatives. It may not be easy to switch horses in mid-stream, especially when the stream is raging, but you may not have any choice.
Napoleon once said that an army marches on its stomach, meaning that it is critical to focus on making sure it is well provisioned. One could say that a company, indeed the entire the economy, marches on its supply chain. Make sure you understand where it is strong and especially where it is weak.
The time you spend with your supply chain might make all the difference.
In the past, cybersecurity threats tend to increase in times of crisis. Now, bad actors are already using the coronavirus pandemic to their advantage. Employers are beginning to ask employees to work from home, and there are already numerousarticles on security concerns about remote access. And while it is certainly important to ensure remote access systems are properly secured, it is equally as important to understand the human factors that create certain security vulnerabilities. Mass confusion and panic often lead to faulty or rash decision making, which is precisely what scammers are banking on now. A study by Check Point, for instance, revealed that coronavirus-related web domains are 50% more likely to be malicious than other domains.
When considering the coronavirus and cybersecurity, it is important for employers to use cyber awareness training to ensure employees continue to think critically and use proper judgment online. Here are four key areas to help employees limit their risk of exposure:
Use Multi-Factor Authentication
Perhaps the most important measure you can put in place is to make sure that all remote users are required to use multi-factor authentication (MFA) when accessing your system.
Businesses need to ensure all employees that are working from home are taking appropriate steps to keep sensitive information safe. Anyone using remote access needs to be trained in the use of essential endpoint protections. VPNs, for example, are extremely important to make sure logs can’t be sniffed out by others in the neighborhood.
Employees should also be reminded of basic measures to take with personal devices. Screen and application time-outs should be set up to limit the risk that unwanted eyes around the house can view sensitive information and communications.
To limit the impact of stolen or lost devices, all sensitive information should be fully encrypted.
Employees should be updated about current phishing campaigns that are taking advantage of the confusion and panic surrounding the coronavirus. The World Health Organization recently released a statement warning of fake emails posing as the WHO to steal money, information, and credentials. According to The Wall Street Journal, the WHO is receiving daily reports of coronavirus-related phishing schemes.
Working remotely will also require expanded use of online communications such as email, video services, and phones. It is therefore important that all communications relating to business should only take place through company-approved communication services. It is difficult to monitor the security of personal and social media messaging services and should not be used for any business-related communications.
Reporting and Incident Response
Being aware of increased cyber threats is only half the battle. Employees also need to understand how and when to report any suspected incidents. Keep help desks up and running, and encourage employees to be overly cautious in reporting any suspicious emails or activity. Employees need to know that someone can help if they think any information is at risk.
Incident response teams should also be briefed on and prepared for any threats related to remote access work. Not only should response teams understand the current threats, everyone involved should have a clear understanding of how communication and responses will be carried out remotely. Because previous response simulations were probably conducted in-office, it is helpful to run a test response using only remote communication.
Communicate and Connect
Companies are ecosystems and healthy corporate ecosystems are a function of purpose, recognition, connection and intentional urgency. All of which feeds into employee actions, whether it involves cybersecurity issues or marketing or administration or service issues. Companies which do a better job of communicating what is going on in their organization and connecting with their remote staff and acknowledging their respective situations create a caring environment which helps everyone pay attention to little things – like perhaps not clicking on that strange link or hiding the fact they accidentally sent the wrong person confidential information.
Given the severity of the ongoing coronavirus crisis, bad actors are counting on an increase in confusion, panic, and fear to profit and cause further disruption. The coronavirus and cybersecurity concerns need to be considered, Above all else, employers need to do their part to ensure workers stay well-informed and secure. Working at home might mean we can dress a little more casually, it doesn’t mean we should be any less serious about threats online.
Like the often quoted phrase, “A camel is a horse designed by committee”, compliance regulations often do more to over complicate issues than solve them. At the same time, companies that just focus on meeting compliance standards can miss addressing the risks the compliance measures were designed to mitigate.
After all, Target Department Stores successfully passed a PCI audit two months before their massive breach in 2013.
Naomi Lefkovitz of the National Institute of Standards and Technology perhaps said it best when discussing privacy risk at a conference last month in Brussels. “If you do something that upsets your customers from a privacy standpoint and then you tell them ‘Well I’ve done everything correct under the law’ will they be any more satisfied? Probably not. That’s privacy risk in a nutshell.”
When focusing on cybersecurity or data privacy, the key is to understand what your risks are. In many cases those risks will involve other parties and you need to determine the impact that an incident will have on them when you determine how to and where to take preventive action.
“Focus on your customers and your employees and the business will take care of itself,” is another often quoted phrase. If you do that as you put together your cybersecurity and data privacy practices, compliance and the rest of the business will take care of itself, as well.
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