Work from home creates opening for hackers

As people disperse to their homes to work and study because of the coronavirus pandemic, taking their laptops and company data with them, cyber security experts say hackers will follow, seeking to take advantage and infiltrate corporations.

Government officials in the United States, Britain and elsewhere have issued warnings about the dangers of a newly remote workforce, while tech companies are seeing surges in requests to help secure out-of-office employees.

Criminals are dressing up password-stealing messages and malicious software as coronavirus-themed alerts, warnings, or apps.

Some researchers have found hackers masquerading as the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a bid to break into emails or swindle users out of bitcoin, while others have spotted hackers using a malicious virus-themed app to hijack Android phones.

Advanced cyber spies also appear to be exploiting the coronavirus outbreak that has infected more than 210,000 people and killed 8700 worldwide.

Last week researchers at Israeli company Check Point discovered suspected state-backed hackers using a booby-trapped coronavirus update to try to break into an unidentified Mongolian government network.

On Friday US cyber security officials released an advisory warning companies to update their Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and be on guard against a surge of malicious emails aimed at an already disoriented workforce.

On Tuesday, Britain's National Cyber Security Centre issued a six-page leaflet for businesses managing remote employees.

The opportunities for hackers are manifold.

Many workers are moving their employers' data from professionally managed corporate networks to home WiFi setups protected with basic passwords.

Some organisations are loosening restrictions to allow employers to access work-critical information from their bedrooms or home offices.

Working from home might expose employees to lower-tech threats too, including theft or loss of electronic equipment or plain human error by employees adjusting to a new environment.