World in Lockdown: The Great Stress Test
“It’s only when the tide goes out, that you learn who has been swimming naked.”
This is a famous Warren Buffet quote which is his way of saying things look good and rosy up until they are tested by adverse conditions.
The global coronavirus outbreak is a good example of this. Money.com writes that besides applying to companies, this quote is relevant for personal finances.
“In a booming market and a booming economy, we don’t have to worry so much about our debt, our obligations and our expenses and our safety net. We don’t have to worry so much about where that last penny goes, because there are a lot more pennies and dollars on the way.”
I’m going to use that quote to also refer to this COVID-19 period as the greatest stress test of our time, not just for businesses and cashflow, but also for cybersecurity and VPNs. These are just two things which come to mind, currently.
One of the earlier prominent casualties was Zoom, the video conferencing platform which experienced such a surge in usage (200 million daily meeting participants), that security researchers and hackers alike, started to pay it extra attention.
As Zoom slowly but surely responded by fixing the laundry list of security flaws, some attention began to shift to other video conferencing services like Cisco Webex and Microsoft Teams. Security flaws were highlighted as users tried to weigh the suitability of each service for their personal, leisure and work needs.
On the plus side, Zoom is taking a 90-day freeze from features development, to fix their privacy and security issues. They have even hired former Facebook security chief, and have agreed to conduct regular risk assessments and software code reviews.
Just yesterday, they also announced a deal with Keybase to offer end-to-end encrypted meetings.
This is one positive outcome from the stress test that the coronavirus pandemic is putting many products and services through.
Something else that is seeing a surge in usage is VPN or virtual private networks services.
As a backgrounder, VPNs have been used by remote office workers for the encryption capabilities that they have. They are also usually used to access restricted or geo-locked content.
True, there is more than one VPN service out there, and CNet.com reports that demand for VPNs increased 44-percent over the second half of March. The virus outbreak reached pandemic levels according to the World Health Organisation’s standards, on 11th March, 2020.
Post-outbreak, Top10VPN found that demand had increased in 75 countries. And it’s not just business VPNs that are in demand as workers are sent home to work; traffic is also increasing for geo-locked content, as many do not relish the prospect of being stuck at home 24/7 with limited TV content.
Is all of this demand putting a stress on VPN services? Yes, and VPN providers like NordVPN and AT&T’s Anira, have been adding server capacity to keep up with demand.
The global VPN market is anticipated to increase to USD36 billion in 2022, from USD20.6 billion in 2018.
All of this is beginning to have the unwanted effect of cybersecurity risk.
First of all, is the fact that all of a user’s data would typically travel to a single company, and a single location. The centralised nature of VPN traffic is vulnerable to compromise, and especially if the company operating the VPN service already has dubious intentions to harvest data and inject malware.
Insecure VPNs are routinely spotted and removed from online app stores, but companies must also reinforce their corporate VPNs, to defend these VPNs from cyberattacks.
Folks like Paul Martini from Security Boulevard, have predicted the death of VPNs however, due to the way data traffic travels now that workers are working from home. If before, remote workers had to access applications at the office via VPN, what’s the motivation to use VPNs now that cloud-based apps have come around?
Add network security to this equation, and, “…to ensure secure connections to the cloud organisations force those connections through the VPN and back to the office to be inspected by the appliances before going on the way to their destination.”
Connections become extremely slow, as a result.
If anything, the pandemic will test these two theories of whether VPNs will further boom, or simply die off in the corporate world.
What else could die off due to the coronavirus? Or will it weather the onslaught, like Zoom has, and successfully respond to become a better product?