Switching to an alternative video conferencing platform will not necessarily offer greater levels of security as privacy is typically not a strength of any collaboration platform. Collaboration platforms tend to tread a fine line between a great experience and security. Too much security can cause performance and usability to be impacted negatively. Too little security, as we have seen, allows hackers to find vulnerabilities. If data privacy is critical for a meeting, then perhaps collaboration platforms should not be used, or organisations should not share critical information on them.
Protect all Cloud Workloads
In today’s remote working paradigm, cloud computing is being used more than ever. This frequently exposes organisations to risks that are not adequately mitigated.
Organisations typically need to manage a mix of on-premises technology together with multiple clouds, which are often poorly integrated. These complexities are compounded by the increasing risk from cyberattacks associated with cloud migration and hybrid cloud implementations. In cloud environments, the leading cybersecurity risks include insecure interfaces and APIs, data breaches and data loss, unauthorised access, DDoS attacks, and a lack of a unified view of assets.
Protection requirements for securing hybrid multicloud environments are evolving rapidly. In addition to tightening up endpoint security, organisations must also place greater emphasis on cloud workload protection. Cloud security solutions need to offer a unified and consistent view across all physical machines, virtual machines, serverless workloads and containers, used by an organisation.
Amend Incident Response Plans
It is the containment of breaches that often determines the success of security policies and procedures. Basic cyber hygiene as well as changes to IT architecture, such as micro segmentation, play an essential role in breach containment. But incident response plans also need to be made relevant to the current pandemic scenario.
Employees and IT teams are now working in a completely different environment than envisaged by most incident response plans. Existing plans may now be obsolete. At the very least, they will need to be modified. Usually, incident response plans are designed to respond to threats when most employees are operating in a corporate environment. This clearly needs to change. Employees need to be trained in the updated plan and know how to reach support if they believe that a security breach has occurred in their remote location.
Critically, new alert and warning systems need to be established, which can be used by employees to warn of threats as well as to receive information on threats and best practices.
Organisations are struggling to keep the lights on. In this battle to remain operational, cybersecurity has been taking a back seat. This cannot last for long as the deluge of new vulnerabilities is creating easy pickings for attackers. Cyber hygiene, endpoint security, cloud security, security policies and incident response plans must be continually reviewed.
This blog is based on Andrew Milroy’s recent report titled “Cybersecurity in the COVID-19 Era”.
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The one area where they were impacted most is security. In his report, Cybersecurity Considerations in the COVID-19 Era, Ecosystm Principal Advisor Andrew Milroy says, “The extraordinary growth of Zoom has made it a target for attackers. It has had to work remarkably hard to plug the security gaps, identified by numerous breaches. Many security vulnerabilities have been discovered with Zoom such as, a vulnerability to UNC path injection in the client chat feature, which allows hackers to steal Windows credentials, keeping decryption keys in the cloud which can potentially be accessed by hackers and the ability for trolls to ‘Zoombomb’ open and unprotected meetings.”
“Zoom largely responded to these disclosures quickly and transparently, and it has already patched many of the weaknesses highlighted by the security community. But it continues to receive rigorous stress testing by hackers, exposing more vulnerabilities.”
However, Milroy does not think that this issue is unique to Zoom. “Collaboration platforms tend to tread a fine line between performance and security. Too much security can cause performance and usability to be impacted negatively. Too little security, as we have seen, allows hackers to find vulnerabilities. If data privacy is critical for a meeting, then perhaps collaboration platforms should not be used, or organisations should not share critical information on them.”
Zoom to increase Capacity and Scalability
Zoom is aware that it has to increase its service capacity and scalability of its offerings, if it has to successfully leverage its current market presence, beyond the COVID-19 crisis. Last week Zoom announced that that it had selected Oracle as its cloud Infrastructure provider. One of the reasons cited for the choice is Oracle’s “industry-leading security”. It has been reported that Zoom is transferring more than 7 PB of data through Oracle Cloud Infrastructure servers daily.
In addition to growing their data centres, Zoom has been using AWS and Microsoft Azure as its hosting providers. Milroy says, “It makes sense for Zoom to use another supplier rather than putting ‘all its eggs in one or two baskets’. Zoom has not shared the commercial details, but it is likely that Oracle has offered more predictable pricing. Also, the security offered by the Oracle Cloud Infrastructure deal is likely to have impacted the choice and it is likely that Oracle has also priced its security features very competitively.”
“It must also be borne in mind that Google, Microsoft and Amazon are all competing directly with Zoom. They all offer video collaboration platforms and like Zoom, are seeing huge growth in demand. Zoom may not wish to contribute to the growth of its competitors any more than it needs to.”
Milroy sees another benefit to using Oracle. “Oracle is known to have a presence in the government sector – especially in the US. Working with Oracle might make it easier for Zoom to win large government contracts, to consolidate its market presence.”
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Ecosystm research finds that organisations are struggling with their cybersecurity implementations, especially as the solutions get increasingly complicated to combat the complex and evolving threat environment (Figure 1). Integration with existing cybersecurity measures, and a lack of sufficiently skilled IT staff to handle the myriad needs of the multiple systems and applications, builds a strong case for automation in cybersecurity practices.
Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Alex Woerndle says, “Automation is critical in cybersecurity, given the volume of data, alerts and incidents that are being dealt with on a daily basis, globally. Automating recurrent and high-volume tasks is a critical step in getting on top of this challenge.”
Importance of Automating Cybersecurity Processes
Woerndle sees a growing role for CSPM providers for multiple reasons. “Firstly, a lot of companies are finding that they cannot be ‘fully cloud’ and as such, end up with a complex architecture spanning on-premise, private cloud environments and multiple public cloud tenancies. Secondly, due to poorly planned cloud migrations, changing priorities, differences in service requirements, cost differences and also personal preferences across multiple teams, a lot of companies end up consuming different services across multiple public cloud providers (Azure, AWS, GCP, and so on). IT teams are struggling to be experts in all aspects of the shared responsibility model and with the capabilities to secure the various services. Finally, there is a constant stream of upgrades and addition of new services team members, given the easy accessibility public cloud environments provide. CSPM solutions provide the ability to establish baselines, enforce security controls and run regular checks to ensure compliance. Doing this manually is time consuming, expensive and always three steps behind.”
Woerndle also sees further complications because of the COVID-19 crisis. “COVID-19 has shifted the world to remote working overnight. Once workers are outside of the trusted corporate network and have access to cloud resources from their home networks, additional complexity to the corporate security posture is highlighted. Depending on how organisations have prepared for this, they either maintain control of all services and applications, and the access into each, or if not prepared, open direct access to a lot of unsecured applications from potentially very unsecured networks.” In fact Zscaler has seen its stock prices rising in the aftermath of the global crisis.
However, Woerndle warns, “While the conversation certainly supports the use of CSPMs, there is a lot more to it in terms of securing home networks, identity and access management, and so on.”
Zscaler’s acquisition of CloudNeeti certainly appears to be a timely move, in the current environment when organisations are struggling with a lack of resources with the extensive knowledge to understand all private and public cloud environments. There are controls required to secure each application, resource and system within an organisation – along with the time and effort required to implement, monitor, audit and improve cybersecurity measures over time.
According to Speedtest, global mobile and broadband speeds have suffered as a result of the increase in traffic with speeds dropping in March 2020 for mobile to 30.47 Mbps (from 31.62 Mbps in February) and fixed broadband to 74.64 Mbps (from 75.41 Mbps in February). In Southeast Asia, only Singapore and Vietnam averaged mobile speeds of 54.37 Mbps and 33.97 Mbps respectively, exceeding the global average speeds. As for fixed broadband, Singapore ranked highest globally achieving 197.26 Mbps while Thailand and Malaysia clocked 149.95 Mbps and 79.86 Mbps respectively, trumping the global average speeds.
Southeast Asian carriers increase network efficiency and quality
Singapore. The country’s ICT regulator, Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), reported an increase in internet usage and its intentions to support telecom carriers in boosting network capacity to ensure essential services run smoothly. Priority will be given to high traffic and residential areas where a larger proportion of the population are working from home. The Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) reported that Singapore has at least 30 percent buffer in network capacity even during peak periods. Major TV operators Mediacorp, Singtel and Starhub have made more content available for free during this period. This may further impact network speeds as customers are consuming more content over wifi (on mobile apps) or over the fibre networks.
Thailand. Part of the country’s public assistance measures during the pandemic, include offering about 30 million mobile subscribers 10GB free data. The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) will also upgrade the speeds of fixed broadband to at least 100 Mbps which is expected to benefit 1.2 million household subscribers. Leading operator Advanced Info Service (AIS) recently announced that it has deployed 5G networks at hospitals to boost network capacity and speeds, and is deploying robots for telemedicine to empower the healthcare system to fight COVID-19.
Malaysia.Maxis and Telekom Malaysia (TM) reported a surge in traffic since the movement control order (MCO) was implemented by the Government on the 18th March 2020. The MCO is expected to run at least until 28th April 2020. TM cited a 30 percent increase in usage attributed to the increase in traffic for streaming, online games and teleconferencing. Leading operators Maxis, Digi, Celcom and U Mobile have offered 1GB free data during the MCO period as part of the Government’s stimulus package. Maxis, TM, Digi and Celcom have also committed significant manpower to ensure that the networks are operating efficiently and to ensure customer support. Leading TV operator Astro has made all movie, news and cartoon networks available to all its customers until the 28th April 2020.
Social distancing fillip for video conferencing
The rise of social distancing has made us all seek new ways to connect, mainly through video chat. Video conferencing traffic is on the rise as it is the next best thing to face-to-face meetings. Microsoft Teams and Zoom have been big benefactors. The American Economic Institute (AEI) notes that Zoom hit some 200 million users daily from a daily average 10 million. Microsoft Teams added some 12 million registrations to a total of 44 million.
Many predict that the home working trend will continue in the recovery stage and beyond, due to improvements in the telecommunications infrastructure and impending rollout of 5G. It is also predicted that the commercial property sector is likely to suffer due to this trend. This period also highlights the critical importance of cybersecurity with increasing occurrences of hacking and fraud. Zoom is being forced to reinforce their privacy and security measures, as an example.
COVID-19 has changed the way we web
On the social front, many are also using video conferencing to communicate with friends and family. Operators relaxing and offering additional data has undoubtedly contributed to the increase in this usage too. Now that many are homebound, network traffic in residential areas are higher than ever. In the past, peak hours of traffic at homes were at night – this has changed with adults and children homebound. Adults are using video conferencing and more voice calls; while children are using elearning, playing games or streaming videos. The European Commission had asked Netflix and other streaming platforms to reduce streaming quality to standard definition (SD). Netflix has assured that it has the capability to manage levels of streaming quality in accordance with the networks quality requirement of individual countries.
Online gaming and video streaming have emerged as winners and have seen an increase in consumption in these times as they provide for entertainment for millions stuck at home. There is tremendous opportunity for both telecom operators and content providers to increase their number of services in this area. Netflix, YouTube, Microsoft Xbox and PlayStation are among the winners in this sector. YouTube provides for a primary news source and commentary on the epidemic for many. Netflix’s stocks are near an all-time high at present.
eCommerce boost for essentials goods and services
The eCommerce sector should see a major improvement in Southeast Asia as physical channels to market have reduced. Emerging economies such as Malaysia and Thailand should see an improvement in services and embrace eCommerce like their mature counterparts. Statista reports that the average Malaysian eCommerce shopper spent just US$159 and Thailand just US$100 on online consumer goods purchases in 2018, considerably lower than the global average of US$634. There is huge opportunity to provide for basic necessities such as online grocery, food and delivery of goods. As a consequence, contactless payment and the transport and logistics sector will be forced to adapt their business operations to ride this wave successfully. As eCommerce transactions diversify and increase in emerging markets, it will give telecom providers an opportunity to keep engaging with platform players.
Telecom carriers are likely to suffer financial losses due to the scale of the disruption COVID-19 has brought about. However, there are some positives takeaways from this period. The increase of network traffic and the changing patterns have driven carriers to better understand network traffic management. The sharp consumer and business onboarding as far as applications and digital services are concerned, has given the digital economy and 5G use cases a shot in the arm. This is likely to spur innovation in services including communications, eCommerce, payments, logistics and healthcare among others.
In January we wrote a blog on How Technology is Helping to Combat the Coronavirus – since then the COVID-19 outbreak has fast become a global threat, disrupting healthcare systems and economies. As the world struggles to contain the spread, Singapore’s response to the crisis shows how governments can use policies and technology to combat emergencies. While it is true that Singapore’s size is its advantage, and most of what it was able to do cannot be replicated in larger, more spread-out countries, there are still lessons there – in the simplicity and responsiveness of the measures. The threat is by no means behind us and the Government will need to implement many more policy changes in the near future. But it is worthwhile to look at what Singapore has done so far to contain the spread.
#1 Identifying and acknowledging the threat early
Like other Asian countries, Singapore suffered during the SARS outbreak in 2003. While the number of people infected during SARS was less at 238, at the end of the outbreak the country had recorded 33 deaths. Having learnt from that experience, Singapore knew that early response is key. Acknowledging the threat early allowed Singapore to have test kits made available to all major hospitals through the Agency of Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR). A*STAR is a statutory board under the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Singapore. The agency supports R&D that is aligned to areas of competitive advantage and national needs. By the time the first case was reported on 23rd January, health professionals were equipped with testing capabilities. Health authorities and biotech companies have continued to modify and launch newer testing technology – like the fast-track swab test kits launched in early March – as global research continues.
#2 Focusing on contact tracing
Right from the start, Singapore has been focused on contact tracing. Following the chain of the virus allows government agencies to identify and isolate people at risk, including their close contacts. This became more important as the virus spread into the local community with the first reported case on the 4th February. The contact tracing process has been a concerted effort using technology, manpower and dedication. As Singapore faces a second wave of spread from returning travellers, the Government launched Trace Together, an app that records distancing between users and the duration of their encounters. Individual consent is required to share the data which is encrypted and deleted by the Ministry of Health (MOH) after 21 days. This allows the MOH to contact citizens in the case of possible contact with an infected individual.
#3 Keeping the citizens in the loop
The speed in imposing border controls, meticulous tracing of known carriers and aggressive testing are all positive steps in combating a crisis like this. But arguably the most productive strategy was to get citizen buy-in. The need was felt most when the country’s Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (DORSCON) level was raised from yellow to orange on 7th February. With the raised DORSCON level, buildings and public facilities with a high volume of people were required to do fever screening and collect personal details for further communication and alerts, if required. Simultaneously, the Government started sharing clear, transparent, daily public communication through mobile phones. The messages contain anonymised details of the patients (to make people aware of their own possible exposure), as well as an update of the number of patients being treated and released. The 2 deaths were also reported promptly – but enough details were shared to avoid panic. Demonstrating cross-agency collaboration, the information disseminated comes from multiple government agencies – the same channel is also used to drip-feed hygiene guidelines and the evolving government policies on travel, trade and so on.
The message from the leadership has also been clear and timely, and an economic stimulus package was announced fairly early. The Government is currently working on a second stimulus package, as the threat to the economy continues.
#4 Dispelling misinformation
Taking this daily communication to the next level, the Government has been prompt in stopping the spread of rumours. Not only does the MOH website share all the latest details, any spread of misinformation (usually through social media) is being quelled by official statements. It is extremely important to be able to address issues such as these, because it impacts trust in the government and the healthcare system. The daily updates are now a ‘single source of truth’ on all COVID-19 related information. The Cyber Crime Portal has also been activated with the intention to track unverified messages especially regarding the treatment and cure of COVID-19.
#5 Empowering healthcare professionals and citizens with digital tools
Unfortunately, the community spread appears to be happening in waves, especially as Singapore has a high volume of returning travellers. Healthcare facilities continue to be stretched. Although Singapore has adequate healthcare facilities to cope with the number of current cases, the Government is also prepared with additional quarantine facilities. Meanwhile, hospitals have set up makeshift triage centres in their car parks to deal with the growing number of patients needing to get tested. To counter the need for more infrastructure and the cost to get additional facilities ready, the use of digital health, remote patient monitoring and online care planning is being explored to limit patients presenting themselves to providers. KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital has launched UPAL – Urgent Paediatric Advice Line – as a pilot online consultation channel. It is expected that more healthcare facilities will offer services such as these. Being cloud based, these solutions can be deployed within days and high-risk patients can be immediately onboarded, easing the burden on the healthcare system and providing relief to patients and families. Telemedicine and remote monitoring are not new, having been proven and tested by several healthcare systems. In these extraordinary times, technology will help the healthcare system keep all in Singapore safe.
#6 Having a strong Data and Digital infrastructure
Singapore’s data and digital services infrastructure is the overarching factor that has allowed the Government to act quickly and efficiently to fight this community threat. While this is not linked directly to the current response measures against COVID-19, it is the true enabler. Firstly, the electronic health record system has access to records of all patients who have availed of the public healthcare system (private, primary care organisations have also started contributing to the system – enabling the vision of complete longitudinal health records). This is the backbone of the Government’s healthcare measures in these difficult times. Secondly, the network infrastructure allows the introduction of online consultation services. Moreover, people are able to work from remote locations seamlessly using collaboration tools such as Zoom, Skype and WebEx. This allows the Government to encourage people to work from home, to stay away from healthcare facilities and other measures to reduce overcrowding of public spaces to prevent the spread. And finally, Singapore has a strong access to eCommerce and online platforms, allowing people to access almost anything they choose to, online.
While the battle against the pandemic is far from over, Singapore has so far managed to avoid complete disruption by using technology to be responsive to the community’s needs.