Bondgate IT is advising those businesses and organisations that have switched to remote working to ensure they have effective security measures in place – as the number of coronavirus-related cyberattacks continues to rise.

The Darlington-based company has seen a huge increase in enquires from companies concerning IT security during the past two months as thousands of employees across the North East abandoned the office to begin working from home.

Security researchers estimate there has been a 600% increase worldwide in the number of phishing emails exploiting the current pandemic, while the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) said that earlier this month the public had flagged up 160,000 suspicious emails in one 14 day period.

NCSC also highlighted a survey of 2,000 SME employees working from home which found just nine per cent had checked whether their antivirus software had been updated, 18% were working from unprotected devices and just 26% had access to IT support from their employer.

Many of the phishing emails appear to be from reputable sources inviting the recipient to open malicious attachments or links which allow cyber criminals to plant malware or spyware.

With many employees using personal devices to work from home, there is a heightened risk of criminals harvesting sensitive business data. There have been several well-publicised examples of scam emails purporting to offer information on infection rates, health advice or issues such as tax rebates.

Garry Brown, managing director of Bondgate IT, said: “In the lead-up to the lockdown many businesses were focused on the task of ensuring their staff had the correct technology and training to allow them to work from home and security was not always an immediate priority.

“With many using the same device for both work and socialising – while operating outside their company’s normal security protections – there is a real risk that such malicious attacks will succeed – putting a business at extreme risk.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has presented a perfect opportunity for hackers to gain access to computer systems as people work in isolation.”

Businesses, organisations, and individuals can take several simple steps to improve their cyber security by updating antivirus software, securing its networks and cloud services, updating all software and apps, investing in email security solutions,  ensuring staff use a password management tool, and enforcing multi-factor authentication for business applications.

The same precautions should take place on all individual devices including laptops, desktops, tablets, and smartphones.

He added: “Businesses must take security seriously, and focus on enhancing their levels of protection rather than responding only once a breach has occurred.”