Sophos: Ransomware Attacks During COVID-19 Enhanced Security Skills

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The findings of Sophos’ latest global survey, The IT Security Team: 2021 and Beyond, revealed how amplified security challenges during the pandemic offered IT teams a unique opportunity to build their cybersecurity expertise. The vast majority of IT teams in the UAE that faced a rise in cyberattacks (90%) and a heavier security workload (91%) over the course of 2020 strengthened their security skills and knowledge. Despite the challenges created by the pandemic, 52% of the IT teams surveyed globally, said team morale increased during 2020.

Chester Wisniewski, Sophos
Chester Wisniewski, Sophos

The increase in cyberattacks during the pandemic impacted IT security skills across all industry sectors covered in the survey, including, at a global level, education (83%), retail (85%) and healthcare (80%). The survey polled 5,400 IT decision makers in mid-sized organisations in 30 countries across Europe, the Americas, Asia-Pacific and Central Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.

“Around the world, 2020 was an unprecedented year for IT teams,” said Chester Wisniewski, Principal Research Scientist, Sophos. “IT professionals played a vital role in helping organisations to keep going despite the restrictions and limitations necessitated by COVID-19. Among other things, they enabled education institutions to move learning online, retailers to switch to online transactions, healthcare organisations to deliver digital services and care under incredibly tough circumstances, and ensured public entities could continue to provide essential services.”

The Sophos’ survey indicates that in many cases the challenges brought on by the pandemic have created not just more highly skilled, but more motivated IT teams, ready to embrace an ambitious future.

Wisniewski added that as a growing number of countries are able to start planning for life beyond pandemic restrictions, there is an excellent opportunity to implement new IT and security policies, adopt more secure modern tools to manage employees and operations beyond the IT perimeter, build expert teams that blend in-house and out-sourced talent, and introduce security platforms that combine intelligent automation with human threat hunting expertise.

He said, “There is no going back. The future may be just as unprecedented as the past.”

The main findings of “The IT Security Team: 2021 and Beyond” global survey for the UAE include:

  • Adversaries were quick to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the pandemic: 49% of IT teams overall reported an increase in the number of cyberattacks targeting their organisation over the course of 2020
  • The overall experience of 2020 enabled 62% of IT teams to build their cybersecurity skills and knowledge. It is likely that much of this professional development will have been informal on-the-job learning, acquired as teams tackled new technology and security demands, often under intense pressure and remote from their normal place of work
  • The experiences of 2020 have fuelled ambitions for bigger IT teams and using advanced tools such as artificial intelligence (AI) in future technology strategies. Many organisations appear to have entered 2021 with plans to increase the size of both in-house and outsourced IT teams, and to embrace the potential of advanced tools and technologies. The survey found that 57% of IT teams anticipate an increase in in-house IT security staff by 2023, and 57% expect the number of outsourced IT security staff to grow over the same time frame.An overwhelming majority (92%) expect AI to help deal with the growing number of attacks and 87% with the complexity of attacks. This could be due in part to the fact that 67% of IT teams believe that cyberattacks are now too advanced for the in-house team to tackle on their own

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