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SPECIAL REPORT: Tech security in evolving working conditions due to COVID-19

With tech security issues evolving, perhaps even more so due to COVID-19, responses to them are also changing. Upgrade Magazine takes a closer look at this issue with input from select experts in the ICT industry.

In December 2021, over 700 customers of the country’s biggest bank, BDO, became victims of a heist perpetrated by a then-unidentified group of hackers. For a few days, several BDO depositors reported (via social media) that their accounts have been hacked, resulting to losses from P25,000 to P50,000. The amounts were then transferred from their accounts to an individual named “Mark Nagoyo,” a UnionBank account holder. 

Following the hacking, BDO released a statement saying that – aside from the intent to reimburse the losses of affected clients – it eyes to continue implementing additional security controls to block further attempts and to protect bank credentials. It added that it is “aware of (the) sophisticated fraud technique” since “cybersecurity is a focal point of the banking sector.” As such, it eyes to “continuously investing and working towards improving our security infrastructure to protect our clients’ money.”

In truth, the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted how cybercriminals ransom millions of dollars from people – and yes, businesses – using various tactics, from phishing, social engineering and other hacker tools of the trade. 

Specifically for companies, a Verizon report noted that the average cost of a data breach soared to $21,659 per incident during the pandemic. Most cyber-incidents range from as little as $800 to more than $650,000, but – get this! – 5% of successful attacks cost businesses $1 million or more. Also, approximately 85% of successful data breaches involved defrauding humans instead of exploiting flaws in computer code, with 61% of all data breaches resulting from schemes that try to swipe login credentials, such as phishing schemes.

By January 2022, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) presented five persons believed to be behind the hacking incident. NBI’s informant – which led to the capture of the five – reportedly said that the suspects “engaged in the business of providing access devices to anyone looking for options to cash out funds fraudulently obtained.” These devices included bank accounts, crypto wallets, and even point-of-sale terminals of otherwise legitimate merchants.

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All these may sound “new” to many, particularly to those who are used to running, and/or accessing products/services via brick-and-mortar businesses. But – admitted Bangko Central ng Pilipinas (BSP) Gov. Benjamin Diokno in an earlier interview – these are becoming “common cyber incidents”, at least based on the reported crimes and losses submitted by Bangko Sentral-supervised financial institutions (BSFI).  Specifically, the most common cyber incidents included: account takeovers or identity theft, card not present fraud (caused by phishing and its variants), and other cyber fraud schemes. As such, Diokno said, “it’s important for us to also be wary and vigilant.”

Not surprisingly, a recent TechRepublic survey found that – while 43% of the respondents said they will tighten their budgets because of the pandemic – ICT budgets could see increases in network and internet security spends, according to 27% of respondents, and remote IT technology, according to 22% of respondents. 

As TechRepublic’s survey found, the top five ICT budget priorities for 2022 are: improving network and internet security, cloud services, digital transformation and employee training. 

Indeed, with tech security issues evolving, perhaps even more so due to COVID-19, responses to them are also changing. Upgrade Magazine takes a closer look at this issue with inputs from select experts in the ICT industry.

EVOLVING TECH USE CHANGE AMID COVID-19

In December 2021, approximately two years since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Economic Forum (WEF) released a white paper looking at the impact on ICT adoption of SMEs. It found that majority of SMEs still “only partially integrate automation into their business processes (63%) or use none at all (23%) – relying mostly on manual labor, with computers used only for administrative work.” In fact, only 12% were fully-automated, and only 2% used automation with intelligent technology such as AI and IoT. 

But with , consumers moving to online channels, businesses have to respond accordingly.

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As WEF noted, the interest of SMEst in digital solutions grew growing, with priorities including: agility and flexibility in operations, raising productivity and minimizing costs, and enabling remote work and collaboration.

FROM: World Economic Forum (WEF)

FROM: World Economic Forum (WEF)

FROM: World Economic Forum (WEF)

Exclusively interviewed by Upgrade Magazine, Yeo Siang Tiong, General Manager for Southeast Asia at Kaspersky, said: “Traditionally, people have turned to technology for efficiency of processes, productivity and better management of resources, among others. Through the years, technology has been influential and pervasive across industries and societies for it has been a key driver of growth, collaboration and innovation. Technology has allowed empowerment among people and it has proved instrumental in saving humanity as technology has made possible all the advances in health and safety that we now enjoy today.”

Nonetheless, Yeo added, the world’s ongoing experience with the pandemic “has showed us that people have realized how using technology could really keep living their day-to-day lives even with this global disruption. We’ve seen that with the surge in the use of digital payments in the Philippines last year. Even non-digital people pre-COVID-19 were suddenly open to using technology as soon as they can so in that regard, we may also consider technology to be a possible contributor in faster recoveries of nations.”

For Yeo, “this is good as experts predict the new normal to be far more tech-driven.” And this is even if “it doesn’t come without risks. The heightened use of digital tools means security and privacy risks would also increase. Investing in digital transformation at this point should no longer be viewed as a burden or a luxury but a necessity for both the public and private sectors.”

Allen Guo, Country Manager for the Philippines, Alibaba Cloud Intelligence, seconds this.

The pandemic has affected most communities and businesses around the world and more people have turned to online platforms for shopping, entertainment, remote working, and online learning. Businesses have realized the urgency for an accelerated digital transformation in order to keep the operations going and continuity during the pandemic,” Guo said.

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For Guo, in the Philippines, more local enterprises are becoming receptive to cloud innovations and are turning to cloud-based IT solutions to navigate the new situation. 

In fact, an Alibaba Cloud’s survey titled “The Role of Cloud in Asia and Confidence in Asian Innovation” showed 88% of Philippine businesses are now more supportive of using cloud-based IT solutions to grow their businesses as compared to before COVID-19.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has served as the impetus for the acceleration of digitalization in the Philippines. Digital Transformation will buttress recovery and growth in the post-pandemic era and help local businesses to get back on their track toward long-term aspirations,” Guo said.

For Michael Ngan, Country General Manager of Lenovo in the Philippines, “as the world undergoes a transition, devices-per-user increase and technology takes more of the front seat in business transformation. Customers want more than just IT hardware support – they want an expansive IT service that can support the transformation in new ways.”

He added that the COVID-19 pandemic increased the need for services due to the fact that far more people are working and schooling remotely and, in many cases, effectively acting as their own IT admins. “Companies are moving away from on-site IT infrastructures and are looking to adopt Modern IT environments characterized by cloud-based resources that facilitate a work from anywhere model.”

And so, at least for Lenovo, “looking ahead, we see this as a good change as there are more long-term growth opportunities  than ever as customers want one device per person for working and learning from home. We see these opportunities in devices, cloud, and IT infrastructure as long term trends with the PC market in particular growing well beyond current analyst forecasts.”

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BOUND TO HAPPEN?

Lenovo’s Ngan noted that prior to the pandemic, the work from home or hybrid work set up was uncommon in the Philippines. Abroad, however, the remote set-up or “telework” as some would call it was not unheard of, but still not widely practiced  due to logistical or technological disadvantages.  

Based on Lenovo’s Future of Work and Digital Transformation study, a research on remote and hybrid work conducted in early 2021, 83% of employees from businesses involved in the study reported that they want a hybrid work-model post-Covid 19. 

“From here we can say that even if this trend was bound to happen pre-pandemic, given the challenges and lack of urgency in making the shift, it was the pandemic that ultimately pushed companies to look deeper into remote work styles. The circumstances brought about by the pandemic also allowed for companies like Lenovo to address the technological gap that previously hindered companies from shifting to a remote work set up,” Ngan said.

Kaspersky’s Yeo noted that in the Philippines, they observed an increase of Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) attacks in Q1 of 2021 with 3,779,953 attempts that were blocked by Kaspersky compared to Q1 of 2020 with 1,155,679 attempts.

Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) is a protocol for remotely connecting to computers running Windows. It enables not only interaction with desktop elements, but also access to other device resources. 

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Source: Kasperksy

For Alibaba Cloud Intelligence’s Guo, it was actually clear that cloud adoption as a technology platform – IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS – is growing at an accelerated rate globally. But the pandemic has ushered in faster cloud adoption locally and globally.

“In the Philippines, cloud adoption will be a typical business dynamic in the near future as more companies see cloud solutions and services help them deliver products and services seamlessly and cost-effectively while ensuring greater efficiency and flexibility to meet the ever-changing demands of customers,” Guo said.

There are, of course, challenges.

“With remote work becoming the new normal, enterprises and SMEs will move more of their critical businesses online. They can encounter several challenges in terms of higher deployment costs, security vulnerabilities, and system availability,” Guo said. “For example, many enterprises are faced with how to use new technologies to ensure business sustainability and growth; how to maintain business innovation during the pandemic; how to leverage on-premises technologies such as cloud computing and data intelligence technologies to quicken their digitalization; how to train IT professionals, to better learn and apply innovative technologies, etc.”

“Technology has really helped us cope and stay connected with our family and friends throughout the lockdown. Consumers have moved dramatically toward online channels, and companies and industries have responded in turn. Right from how we do business to how we trade, how we work, how we produce goods, how we learn, how we seek medical services and how we entertain ourselves, all was backed by technology,” said Nigel Waters, Customer Business Executive, APAC, Amdocs.

For Waters, the “pandemic demonstrated the importance of digital readiness and accelerated its adoption. In years to come, there is sure to be more revolution that technology will bring in and will continue to change our lives. The process has made us future ready.”

Mina Lim, Managing Director, Oracle Philippines also agreed with this.

“Technology has become far more critical to how we live our lives and operate businesses during the pandemic in several ways,” Lim said. In terms of evolving workings conditions, the world saw how businesses have had to pivot operating virtually to ensure their continuity. “This meant they suddenly have to provide 24/7 access to data from outside of their business premises, facilitate collaboration between employees, customers, and partners, and adapt to changing business needs, whether that is closing the books with a finance team all working from home, facilitating click and collect capabilities or online education.”

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This also meant “a dramatic acceleration of plans by customers to deploy mission-critical workloads in the cloud. As to whether these changes are good or bad – change is often seen as a challenge. Would we have chosen this level of change in such a short time without the pandemic?  No. That said, many companies were already on a digital transformation journey, so you could call it an acceleration.”

For Lim, there has certainly been a good that has come from it. 

“For instance, Oracle is collaborating with the University of Oxford to help researchers Identify COVID-19 variants faster. Another example is the Tasmanian Government leveraging Oracle Health Management System to manage its state-wide COVID-19 vaccination program. And we continue to be committed to helping our customers and supporting their ongoing and changing business needs. For instance, to help customers keep their employees safe, Oracle provides free access to our Workforce Health and Safety module to our Oracle Human Capital Management Cloud customers until the pandemic is over. This module helps automate reporting of workplace incidents both now and in the future as we adapt to heightened health and safety concerns.”

BUSINESS RESPONSES

Ngan noted that one of the challenges found in the aforementioned Lenovo study is the rising resource costs of data security and compliance. Beyond the necessary hardware and software, upgrades needed to efficiently transition into a business that can function with a remote taskforce, security services are meeting the most demand. 

“As a brand that takes into account its users’ feedback, we made a conscious effort to address these concerns with ThinkShield, which is a one-stop security platform that offers comprehensive end-to-end security focused on data, identity, online activity,” he said.

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Another challenge reported is slow internet connectivity, resulting in delayed feedback or assistance from IT. Businesses are recommended to invest in smarter devices that software solutions that can alleviate these problems experienced by employees.

For Kaspersky’s Yeo, “as mobile devices are being used by employees to access office emails and work-related systems, we looked into mobile malware that were detected and blocked by Kaspersky among our local users. According to our telemetry, the Philippines ranked 3rd in SEA with the most blocked mobile malware in 2020 with 55,622 attempts and currently logged 22,248 combined attacks in Q1 and Q2 of 2021,” Yeo said.

These data (RDP and Mobile malware) only shows that as businesses continue to operate remotely, threats in remote desktop and mobile devices are increasing. “And companies should focus on how they can beef up their cybersecurity as employees more than ever take the lead role in protecting their organization’s security,” Yeo said.

Also, in relation to employees being an integral part of the cybersecurity of an organization, employers should also look into the well-being of their employees. “According to a study done in the UK, employees experienced depression, anxiety, or suffered from exhaustion while working from home,” Yeo said. “In the Philippines, a report shared that Filipinos are experiencing elevated stress, anxiety, and depression as a result of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. When employees are feeling at their best, on which they are calm and collected, work-related human error is significantly minimized, and production is not affected.”

“With mass vaccination drives being rolled out at an increased pace and gradual reopening of the economy, there is a growing need for organizations, especially in sectors where in-office presence is imperative due to the nature of work, to consider a hybrid model of working that constitutes a combination of physical office and remote work. There are quite a few advantages of adopting the hybrid model from employees’ point of view. To begin with, by transitioning to the hybrid working style, employees can strike a better work–life balance. Further, it can help expand the job horizons as organizations are looking at building a more diversified, borderless talent force,” said Waters from Amdocs.

However, “hybrid work culture does give rise to concerns amongst the workforce about various health safety measures that the organization may need to implement, given the current scenario, as well as fear of any similar contingency arising in the future. The hybrid model can also lead to loss of learning by the observation technique, including on-the-job training, buddy trainings, etc., which is not viable in the virtual space. Certain roadblocks faced by organizations to fully shift to hybrid include the difficulty of building a cohesive, inclusive, people culture virtually,” Waters added.

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Truly, Lim of Oracle Philippines said, the pandemic certainly fast-tracked many organizations into reimagining how they engage with their customers, contractors, and employees – and in the case of public sector organizations and educational institutions, citizens, and students, respectively – and how they use digital technologies to drive change in those processes. But for Lim, “many were already moving along the journey, although perhaps at a steadier pace and not with such an extreme destination in sight.”

At Oracle, they already had many remote workers, and “this allowed us to anticipate many organizational disruptions from workers shifting to operate in remote locations for extended periods. This enabled us to quickly shift to this model with only essential staff coming in to work for business continuity where necessary,” Lim said. “What is clear, though, is that the need to access applications remotely and via mobile in the past few months has only increased the appeal of cloud apps. That’s made a huge difference in enabling people to continue operating out of their homes and showing the value of harnessing digital technologies to improve processes and customer satisfaction. This has put us in a new place than we were before the pandemic began and one from which we can’t go back. It has driven new experiences and expectations.”

DEALING WITH CHALLENGES

As companies continue to amend their business models to deal with the changes brought by – say – COVID-19, Lim of Oracle Philippines said that challenges should be considered holistically.

“We look at these challenges from two perspectives. They are people-related and technology-related,” Lim said. 

On the people-related front, mental health has become one of the biggest challenges for employees and employers to manage the continuously evolving work dynamic. Staying home trying to juggle work, childcare, schooling, and unpredictable finances have taken their toll on working families. Organizations realized that they must address concerns relating to employee health, including stress and anxiety, to avoid productivity decline and prevent work burnout. 

However, the pandemic also launched a mass adoption of collaboration and video conferencing tools, and people are now more comfortable with the ways that technology can support them. A survey conducted by Oracle and Workplace Intelligence showed 68% of respondents would prefer to talk to a robot over their manager about stress and anxiety at work. People have grown more confident that technology innovations can help them in exciting new ways.

Additionally, it was challenging for organizations to sustain learning and engagement when companies started to do things 100% online. In response, many organizations leveraged digital gamification, creating, and promoting training video content and webinars to help remote employees feel more connected. 

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Overall, “security is still a big concern for organizations; the global pandemic underscored the pressing need for IT modernization. On average, over three-quarters of knowledge workers are now working from home. The resulting broader use of cloud applications and public cloud infrastructure generates new and vast opportunities for threat actors. A recent Oracle study found that 40% of organizations have experienced cyber business fraud within 24 months. Similarly, respondents claimed a 47% increase in cybersecurity attacks, including phishing attacks, following the COVID-19 disruption,” Lim said.

And so “while businesses are looking to the cloud in pursuit of greater agility and resilience, new digital initiatives are leaning toward cloud-enabled automation and scalability to deliver a secure foundation that can adapt against critical changes.”

In the end – as stressed by Lim – “traditional cyber-resilience measures and conventional monitoring no longer address the problems of today’s reality, as the expanded digital surface demands cloud-based, automated solutions to enable business continuity and security. I believe the automation and engineering behind zero-trust architectures can help strengthen security posture and simplify security management – providing a robust platform for modernization and disruption,” Lim ended.

CHECK OUT HOW VARIOUS SERVICE PROVIDERS ARE HELPING COMPANIES DEAL WITH THE EVOLVING WORKPLACES

Deal with people, processes and tech to create effective cybersecurity – Kaspersky

Consider trusted cloud service providers to manage online footprint – Alibaba Cloud Intelligence

Learn from best practices to back organizations in the new normal – Amdocs

A successful remote work program requires several ingredients for success – Oracle Philippines

Invest in right hardware, software, services to effect changes in businesses, prevent challenges – Lenovo Phl

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