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Cybersecurity during the COVID-19 Pandemic

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An Interview with Dimitar Bogatinov

COVID 19 has disrupted social interactions, increasing our reliance on the internet for work and social interaction. According to Forbes,[1] there has been a 70% surge in the use of the internet, including online criminal activity.

Tactics discussed this means for NATO’s newest member state, North Macedonia with Dimitar Bogatinov, Assistant Professor of Informatics and Cybersecurity at the Military Academy General Mihailo Apostolski. A prolific author, he has NATO and EU-funded research experience and is a leading expert on N. Macedonia.

Tactics: The EU Agency for Cybersecurity (ENISA) has expressed a number of concerns about surging internet traffic. What are your thoughts regarding internet governance at this point in time?

DB: The EU Agency for Cybersecurity ENISA official seeks:

  • to raise security awareness through public information campaigns, with measures ranging from using security settings to encryption;
  • to ensure business continuity through effective backup and restore procedures;
  • to work with software developers to ensure their products are not used in cyberattacks;

ENISA policies proposals cover a range of practices essential to cybersecurity that are effective and should be pursued.

Tactics: Are Governments and Corporations able to address emerging cybersecurity challenges in Southeastern Europe? Was our internet ready for the COVID-19 outbreak?

DB: Government and corporations are usually able to effectively adapt their policies to changing circumstances.

One of the biggest challenges during the Pandemic has been that we were not prepared for increased network traffic; we also failed to foresee how this increased traffic would affect support staff.

Like everywhere else in the world, we were not ready for first impact but over the course of the last few months, we have been building our resilience.

Tactics: Interpol is pointing to a surge of ransomware attacks to Hospitals and other Health Institutions. Do you believe NATO should play a role in addressing this kind of security threat?

DB: Ironically the first ransomware “AIDS” attacks that took place in 1989 also targeted hospitals. The malware dispersed into various systems through floppy disks, with criminals demanding ransom ranging from $189 to $378.[2]

By March 2020 ransomware attacks doubled. Government, manufacturing and education institutions were the primary targets. These attacks will cost us more than $20bn.[3] At this point in time, Neither NATO member-states nor NATO have the funding or infrastructure required to protect their networks.

Since then, ransomware attacks have exploited negligence and limited awareness training. Perhaps one of the most effective responses is awareness training for personnel, which is significant in implementing proper security protocols for the protection of hardware, backup, and recovery (IDS, IPS and firewall).

Tactics: Given that Cybersecurity is about intimate data, do you think there is a sound democratic foundation for European or Euro-Atlantic collective security? How do you feel about the process of financial institutions and social media platforms gaining access to bank account data?

DB: Euro-Atlantic collective security is a concept that will extend early warning capabilities, increase its resilience against cyber and hybrid warfare, and improve our collective capacity to nip crises in the bud, avoiding escalation.

Most national regulatory frameworks currently prohibit citizens’ data sharing and access to national networks. Government officials are not keen on sharing data and information essential to efficient collective security.

In the future, the development of European or Euro-Atlantic collective security will be essential for cyberspace defense.

Need to know data access is likely to proceed in banking. However, I would be against social media platforms acquiring access to banking data. Payment systems can operate without access to personal data.   

Tactics: Europol has observed a surge in cyber-fraud and malicious attacks. What is the biggest challenge of the two at this point in time?

DB: For any organisation, the response of the Pandemic has been a challenge. But ENISA guidelines prove the organisations’ policies provide for resilience under extreme conditions.

It is clear that awareness training should be increased and adjusted to the knowledge of current trends in cyberspace. Technology upgrades are required to ensure state of the art responses to the current crisis. This requires us to also take into account the social and psychological condition of staff.

Tactics: Should former security personnel be able to sell their know-how to the highest bidder in the private sector? What do you think about the dissemination of surveillance and cyber-attack know-how from the state to the private sector?

DB: Former security personnel should be able to provide the services specified by the Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) signed with the Government. They are good to go if they limit their information or know-how does not violate national security benchmarks.

There are companies in the private sector that have developed capabilities that can be used by the Government. I see no reasons not to have a two-way flow of information with the private sector, ensuring a higher level of security in cyberspace. One of the fundamental preconditions is an extensive background check of the company and its networks, as well as setting vigilant clearance protocols for personnel.

 

[1] COVID-19 Pushes Up Internet Use 70% And Streaming More Than 12%, First Figures Reveal, https://www.forbes.com/sites/markbeech/2020/03/25/covid-19-pushes-up-internet-use-70-streaming-more-than-12-first-figures-reveal/#3d44e8323104, Accessed on 28.08.2020

[3] The State of Ransomware in 2020, https://www.blackfog.com/the-state-of-ransomware-in-2020/, Accessed on 28.08.2020