COVID-19 lockdowns or cybercrime – which is a greater threat to businesses?

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The pandemic has dealt many a blow to businesses across the world. Regional and national lockdowns have forced businesses to rapidly adapt their operations, and in many cases, close entirely. In addition, the move to mass remote working can leave business’ systems and employees at greater risk, with remote workers more vulnerable to cybercrime. As part of its recent global research into financial technology, ESET examined the attitudes and perspectives of senior business leaders on what they saw as the bigger threat to the security of business' finances in the next six months: another lockdown or cybercrime?

While on the surface it may seem like a lockdown poses the bigger threat, halting organizations’ ability to do their jobs and hindering access to workplaces, cybercrime may be just as worrisome, with 42% of respondents claiming that both a lockdown and cybercrime were equal in threat level. The sudden move to remote working brings with it a host of potential security issues, as employees are working from various locations, on a number of networks and devices, with a lack of access to IT departments and outside of a company’s on-site security controls.

In London alone, the first month of lockdown saw a 72% surge in financial losses from cybercrime as criminals took advantage of the shift to home working. It is likely that London was not the only financial capital faced with an increased threat of cybercrime. In times of crisis, cybercriminals will continue to exploit human behavior, and a disparate and potentially disconnected employee network is ripe for the picking.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, ESET’s research revealed a variation in responses depending on both company size and industry. Sectors such as retail and hospitality have been some of the hardest hit by physical lockdowns, but they are also attractive targets for cybercriminals due to their databases rich with customers’ sensitive details. Respondents that work in logistics or engineering roles were the most likely to select cybercrime as the bigger threat, while respondents in R&D and sales were the most likely to believe another lockdown to be the bigger threat.

There is also no denying that businesses with deeper pockets are more equipped to weather the COVID-19-related storm from a financial perspective. However, a potential data breach as a result of a cyber-attack could prove fatal to both reputation and recovery for businesses of all sizes. Companies with between 250 and 499 employees were most likely to view cybercrime as a bigger threat, compared to the businesses that saw a coronavirus lockdown as a larger threat, which was highest in businesses of 2 to 9 employees. This could likely reflect the toll that COVID-19 has had on small businesses, which have fewer resources at their disposal to deal with shutdowns and changing physical restrictions.   

We may not be there yet, but as the world attempts to move toward economic recovery, it is clear that lockdowns and the threat of cybercrime go hand in hand. As businesses navigate the ever-changing physical restrictions of COVID-19, they must also navigate an evolving threat landscape where financial cybercrime is increasing. Now, more than ever, businesses need to invest in solutions that keep their employees and operations safe and secured – no matter the industry, size, or location.