Tuesday 23rd June 2020

BLOG: COVID’S Metamorphoses: a pandemic’s long-term impact on the cyber threat landscape – an introduction to the series

By Jamie MacColl

Over the past few months, COVID-19 has had a significant impact on cyber threats to governments, businesses and individuals. As the global economy has ground to a halt, cybercriminals and nation-states groups are taking advantage of the uncertainty and fear created by the virus to commit fraud, espionage and other malicious activity (see graph below). As we have noted in previous blogposts, threat actors are also taking advantage of the opportunities presented by enforced changes in working environments and cyber security practices due to the virus.

Much of this existing analysis of COVID-19 and the cyber threat landscape understandably takes a short-term view. The need secure remote working-related vulnerabilities and defend against ongoing COVID-19 phishing campaigns and tailored ransomware operations targeting the healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors has been paramount.

We also need to understand the way COVID-19 will change the long-term threat landscape. Horizon scanning for these changes is essential for organisations looking to ensure and enhance their cyber resilience. However, the pandemic has been unprecedented in its scope and the crises it has and will create.  At the same time, the inability to predict the pandemic’s exact outcomes does not prevent us from identifying trends and drivers of change. There has now been an array of expert commentary on the long-term consequences of COVID-19. Nearly six months into the crisis, the impact of COVID-19 is beginning to have a discernable impact on geopolitics, economics, society, technology and legislation. We can rely on this commentary to make our own assessment on the nature of the changes underway in the cyber threat landscape.

Over the course of this six-part series Orpheus analysts will explain how COVID-19 is re-shaping cyber threats to business and governments, and how organisations can mitigate these threats.

Parts I and II assess the geopolitical impact of COVID-19 and the implication for nation-state cyber activity, including: the long-term impact of “vaccine nationalism” on nation-state cyber espionage campaigns and information operations; the rapid decline of Western relations with China since the onset of the crisis in early 2020 and the resulting implications for Chinese cyber activity.

Parts III and IV explore the impact of a recession caused by COVID-19 on the threat landscape. In doing so, we question perceived wisdom about the consequences of economic downturns for cybercriminals. We also assess the likelihood of some nation-states turning to cybercriminal activity, and evaluate the impact of reduced cyber security spending on supply chain risks.

Part V assesses the evolution of legislation, regulation and enforcement of cyber security issues  during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, and how any changes may or may not limit or deter cyber threats.

Part VI examines the impact of longer-term technological changes brought about by COVID-19 that will affect the way people work, consumer and monitor health, and resulting implications for the attack surface  for organisations and individuals. We also illustrate how the short-term focus on maintaining availability of systems has led to a backlog in patching updates being implemented, with long-term consequences for managing vulnerabilities and risk.

Continued chaos, changes in working and consuming habits, geopolitical tensions and an economic downturn will all provide new opportunities and targets for cybercriminal and nation-state actors. Despite this, the changes and trends we identify over the course of this four-part blog series do necessarily represent an entirely new paradigm for attackers and defenders. Instead, we will explain how the consequences of COVID-19 will mostly accelerate or build upon existing trends in the threat landscape.

Jamie MacColl is an Orpheus researcher.

To read the blogs in the series on the long term impact on the cyber threat landscape, please use below links.

COVID’s Metamorphoses part I: nation-state activity in the era of vaccine nationalism

COVID’s Metamorphoses part II: A world disrupted: the consequences of the “retreat of globalisation” for nation-state cyber threats

COVID’s Metamorphoses part III: Cybercrime during the “Great Lockdown” recession

COVID’s Metamorphoses part IV: insider threats, nation-state cybercrime and cyber security budgets during the “Great Lockdown” Recession

COVID’s Metamorphoses Part V: The regulatory and legislative challenge

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