The coronavirus epidemic (COVID-19) has impacted life in a variety of ways. We’re all feeling the effects from the grocery store to the workplace. However, many are overlooking one unintended consequence. Staff working from home have provided hackers with a massive number of new targets.

As a result, Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) issued an alert on Wednesday dealing with virtual private networks (VPN) and remote access.

Primary Issues

Primarily, concern revolves around unpatched or misconfigured VPN connections. Cyber actors are finding vulnerabilities in VPNs all the time. Because those VPNs are available 24/7, they’re not updated very frequently. Just like your workstations and smart devices, VPN hardware/software needs to be patched on a regular basis.

Additionally, phishing attacks will increase as cyber actors are looking for usernames and passwords to access VPNs. With the right username and password, hackers don’t need to look for VPN vulnerabilities. They can just log in to your network.

CISA Concerns

Here are the official concerns from the CISA in relation to telework and VPN usage.

  • As organizations use VPNs for telework, more vulnerabilities are being found and targeted by malicious cyber actors.
  • As VPNs are 24/7, organizations are less likely to keep them updated with the latest security updates and patches.
  • Malicious cyber actors may increase phishing emails targeting teleworkers to steal their usernames and passwords.
  • Organizations that do not use multi-factor authentication (MFA) for remote access are more susceptible to phishing attacks.
  • Organizations may have a limited number of VPN connections, after which point no other employee can telework. With decreased availability, critical business operations may suffer, including IT security personnel’s ability to perform cybersecurity tasks.

Recommended Solutions

The following recommendations should be reviewed as soon as possible within your organization.

  • Update VPNs, network infrastructure devices, and devices being used to remote into work environments with the latest software patches and security configurations.
  • Alert employees to an expected increase in phishing attempts.
  • Ensure IT security personnel are prepared to ramp up the following remote access cybersecurity tasks: log review, attack detection, and incident response and recovery.
  • Implement MFA on all VPN connections to increase security. If MFA is not implemented, require teleworkers to use strong passwords.
  • Ensure IT security personnel test VPN limitations to prepare for mass usage and, if possible, implement modifications—such as rate limiting—to prioritize users that will require higher bandwidths.

“There are nation-states that are actively taking advantage of the situation, particularly our Cold War adversaries, and we need to be keenly aware that they are aware of the lack of security that is presented by everyone telecommuting.”

-Tom Kellermann of VMware Carbon Black

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