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COVID-19 pandemic increases need for cybersecurity

Kelly Bearden

Kelly Bearden directs Cal State Bakersfield's Small Business Development Center.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the risks of cybercrime to individuals and businesses have increased. Kaspersky Lab, a multinational cybersecurity and anti-virus provider, estimates that by September, there were at least 726 million confirmed cyber-attacks in 2020 and the number is expected to reach 1.5 billion by year’s end.

The international accounting firm Deloitte also recently sounded the alarm about cybercriminals capitalizing on the pandemic.

“We have observed a spike in phishing attacks, Malspams and ransomware attacks as attackers are using COVID-19 as bait to impersonate brands, thereby misleading employees and customers,” the company reported. “This will likely result in more infected personal computers and phones. Not only are businesses being targeted, end users who download COVID-19 related applications are also being tricked into downloading ransomware disguised as legitimate applications.”

The Small Business Development Center at Cal State Bakersfield has long been concerned about protecting local businesses and entrepreneurs from cybercrimes. Protective strategies are included in the business plans developed for clients. Training and webinars provided by the SBDC at CSUB are among the center’s many offerings.

During this pandemic year, these resources have been expanded. And among the many SBDC clients are startup companies that offer Kern County consumers, businesses and their working-at-home employees training and practical information to combat cyber criminals.

The concept is that all personal devices connected to the Internet, as well as large business systems, are vulnerable to attack. During 2020, there have been many spectacular examples. Perhaps the highest profile data breach so far this year was the massive Twitter hack that compromised the accounts of such celebrities as Elon Musk, Kim Kardashian West, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Joe Biden and Michael Bloomberg. Twitter acknowledged the breach, calling it a coordinated social engineering attack on its employees, who had access to the company’s internal systems and tools.

Then there was the Zoom data breach in April, when the log-in credentials and other information tied to the accounts of about 500,000 users were stolen and sold on the Dark Web. It also allowed pranksters and criminals to log in and join Zoom meetings that connected employees to their workplaces, students to their schools and family members and friends.

In March, the records of 5.2 million Marriott Hotel Group guests were compromised by a massive data breach. In some cases, the stolen information included contact, loyalty account, personal and business details. It only required hackers to access the credentials of two Marriott staff members to breach the company’s system.

These are just three of many high- and low-profile computer hacks in 2020 that may have been prevented with greater cybersecurity awareness.

With more employees working at home, companies must focus on such strategies as “continuous authentication” and “unified endpoint security” that leverage artificial intelligence, machine learning and automation.

As more health care devices are connected to the internet, it is important to give patients confidence that their medical records are protected online, while they are made accessible to multiple health care providers and insurance companies. With the pandemic, we also are seeing an increased use of telemedicine, which can increase vulnerability if a priority is not given to cybersecurity.

All businesses must plan for today’s and tomorrow’s threats, as they keep up with system advances and innovations.

“As a small business owner, now is the time to take stock of your cybersecurity health, including the importance of securing information through best cybersecurity practices,” the U.S. Small Business Administration advises.

Identify your risks and cyberthreats. Learn best practices for guarding against those threats. Understanding the threat environment and vulnerability can help small business owners make sound, risk-based decisions about investing in cybersecurity protection.

The Small Business Development Center at CSUB is one of five service centers within the University of California, Central California SBDC Regional Network. The SBDC in Bakersfield is a partnership with the U.S. Small Business Administration.

The center assists small business owners in Kern, Inyo and Mono counties by providing free consulting, small business training and research. For more information, go to www.csubsbdc.com

Kelly Bearden is the director of the Small Business Development Center at CSUB.

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