Transitioning to a Mass Remote Workforce – We Must Verify Before Trusting

While not a new practice, the sheer volume of people required to adhere to social distancing best practices means we now have a mass workforce working remotely. Most enterprises and SMBs can support working remotely today but many IT departments are not equipped to scale to the numbers currently required. In this blog we discuss the threats to enterprises and SMBs through this increased remote workforce and how to mitigate the risk.

Cybercriminals seek opportunities to achieve their goals and will follow the path of least resistance. The initial access vectors enumerated in MITRE ATT&CK typically used by cyber criminals are phishing or exploitation of vulnerabilities to gain access to an organization, and are used to act on their malicious objectives. Now that employees have migrated to their homes to work remotely, cybercriminals will target the insecurities of consumer systems and networks to gain access to corporations. As Raj Samani highlighted in a previous post, targeted ransomware attacks are fueling the increased demand in the underground for compromised corporate networks. If employees access corporate networks from pre-infected unmanaged machines without adequate security measures, it creates a much larger attack surface for cybercriminals. This increases the risk of an organization falling victim to a potential breach and ransomware lockdown.

COVID-19 social distancing restrictions came into effect very rapidly, giving organizations little time to prepare for securely managing their workforce remotely. It is important that organizations continue to do business during this tough time, but they must also do it securely to prevent an attack such as ransomware. To protect organizations in this current climate we must approach this from two perspectives:

  1. Know your environment and users
  2. Know your business and real threats

To understand the threats of telecommuting at scale, we must understand the technologies typically used by remote workers to execute their work and access the organization.

Know Your Environment and Users

Per figure 1 below, it is important to understand the architecture and technologies being used by your employees within your business environment. This gives you visibility into your potential exposure based on vulnerabilities being actively exploited by threat actors so that you can protect your remote workers and business infrastructure/assets.


Trust boundaries, common technologies and use cases in telecommuter deployments

Know Your Business and Real Threats

Adversary Opportunities

Adversaries need an initial access vector to gain a foothold within an organization. They will typically seek out corporate usernames and passwords using techniques enumerated in MITRE ATT&CK, such as phishing or remote exploitation of software vulnerabilities. The telecommuter technology increases the attack surface significantly and is being exploited/researched as evident below:


Minimum technical controls for remote worker machines:

  • Secure configuration and strong passwords to prevent router compromise
  • Keep all software layers patched, VPNs and telecommuter applications
  • Do not reuse passwords across personal and work systems
  • Robust endpoint security software

Minimum technical controls for enterprise/SMBs:

  • Security hygiene best practices
  • MFA/2FA and logging for VPN accounts
  • VPN patching
  • Secure RDP access
  • Segmentation of critical business assets
  • Data backups
  • User and device identity for employees and 3rd parties/suppliers


  • Data loss prevention
  • Strong passwords
  • SaaS security
  • Managed vs unmanaged device access


  • Phishing and social engineering training based on the current climate context – “verify before trusting”
  • Keep employees informed of phishing campaigns relative to your environment and business


Strong technical controls are a must to protect telecommuters in the current climate and there is also no substitute for employee phishing and social engineering training as a successful phish can negate technical controls. Even MFA/2FA can be bypassed in some cases, using advanced phishing techniques, so we must all stay vigilant, starting with ourselves to protect our organizations by adopting a “verify before trusting” approach.

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COVID-19 Threat Update – now includes Blood for Sale

Although the use of global events as a vehicle to drive digital crime is hardly surprising, the current outbreak of COVID-19 has revealed a multitude of vectors, including one in particular that is somewhat out of the ordinary. In a sea of offers for face masks, a recent posting on a dark web forum reveals the sale of blood from an individual claiming to have recovered from Coronavirus.

What are we doing?

Putting our customers at the core is what McAfee does. Daily updates are provided to products across the McAfee portfolio, with vetted information to secure your valuable assets in company or working from home.

The volume of threats related to COVID-19 has been significant, with lures used in all manner of attacks. Tracking these campaigns reveals the most targeted sector is healthcare, followed by finance, and then education.

Mobile Threats

In March 2020 alone, McAfee Labs identified several malicious Android applications abusing keywords connected to the pandemic. The apps range from ransomware samples to spy-agents that spy on the victim’s device. For example, statically analyzing an app called “Corona Safety Mask,” we observe that the amount of permissions is suspicious:

  • Full Internet access that allows the app to create network sockets
  • Read contact data from the victim’s device
  • Send SMS messages

When the user downloads the app, it can order a facemask from the following site: The SMS send permission is abused to send the scam to the victim’s contact list.

Although attribution will clearly be a key concern it is not the primary focus of our research, however there appears to be APT groups incorporating  the COVID-19 theme into their campaigns. For example, spreading documents that talk about the pandemic and are weaponized with malicious macro-code to download malware to the victim’s system.

Underground Marketplaces and scams

We have seen many examples of major events being abused by people whose interest is only financial gain and current global events are no exception. We conducted a short survey on some underground markets and Telegram channels offering protective masks and more. Two examples are shown below:

Onion-site offering masks
Telegram channel with multiple sellers of masks

The use of COVID-19 as a lure does not appear to show any sign of slowing down, indeed there are more campaigns being regularly identified using the global concern for selfish gain. Our focus will be to ensure detection remains up to date, and data points relevant for investigation are shared with authorities.

In the meantime, we will continue to disseminate relevant threat information. To be kept up-to-date as we publish more content,  stay connected to the McAfee Labs Twitter feed.

Finally, while COVID-19 related threats are on the rise, from phishing emails name-dropping the disease to malware named after popular video conferencing services, cybercrime in all aspects continues, and we must remain vigilant to other, traditional threats as well. For example, tips to secure the newly massive mobile workforce can be found here.

Please stay safe.

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