More Telework Also Means More Porn — And That's Good News For Hackers Working from home can make employees more vulnerable to hackers — especially if they're browsing websites they wouldn't visit when the boss is watching.
NPR logo More Telework Also Means More Porn — And That's Good News For Hackers

More Telework Also Means More Porn — And That's Good News For Hackers

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A hand hovers over a computer keyboard.
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The coronavirus has infected more than 450,000 people worldwide, and now cybersecurity experts are warning the pandemic could take a toll on computer systems, as well.

Many companies that usually handle sensitive information in their offices are now telling employees to work from home. And that can make them more vulnerable to hackers — especially if workers browse certain websites they wouldn't visit when the boss is watching.

In other words, porn.

Porn is one of hackers' favorite tools, and it may be more effective if a company's employees decide that what's typically NSFW — not safe for work — is safe for working from home during the coronavirus outbreak.

"I mean, adult sites have always been in the Top 3 categories of websites hosting malicious content," said Tyler Moffitt, senior threat research analyst at the cybersecurity firm Webroot. "So, yeah, I would say that is a reasonable assumption — that we're going to see an increase, due to porn at home. You know, these cybercriminals are seizing on this opportunity during a difficult time of pandemic."

The website Pornhub reports traffic is indeed spiking during the outbreak.

But virtual voyeurs aren't the only only ones at risk of being hacked. The simple act of working at home can put a target on your back, according to Tom Kellermann, head of cybersecurity strategy at the software company VMware.

"There has been a dramatic increase in cybercrime and cyberattacks over the past two weeks, targeting Americans, as the greater hacker community of the world appreciates that Americans are now working outside of their corporate firewalls," he said.

Kellerman notes corporate firewalls can extend to workers' homes through virtual private networks, or VPNs, that some companies have designed to make remote work more secure.

Still, hackers can prey on fear and desperation, according to Peter Bauer, chief executive of Mimecast.

"We're seeing things like scams going out via email that are posing as Costco, luring people in to be able to stock up on emergency things," he said.

Hackers don't really want to sell toilet paper and Purell, obviously. Bauer also warns against emails purporting to be from the federal government, offering coronavirus relief checks if you share your bank info.

Bauer points out that some hackers may be more active now because they're feeling desperate, too. Many have day jobs — or, at least, they did before the outbreak — "and I dare say there are an awful lot of hackers whose own daily lives have been interrupted, and they're spending a lot more time sitting behind computers, trying to figure out how to make their money that way," he says.

Bauer predicts aggressive hacking efforts will continue for at least a few more weeks.

There's no perfect defense against hacks, but workers can lower their risk by practicing something called "digital hygiene," said Andy Ellis, chief security officer of Akamai Technologies.

"At the same time that every time you walk into the bathroom you should wash your hands for 20 seconds and scrub and take that good time, you need to do the same thing when you're working in the electronic world," he says.

Good digital hygiene can include cleaning old documents out of your Dropbox or Google Drive, so they're not just sitting there if your account is compromised, according to Ellis. Routinely changing passwords can help, too, and experts recommend using work-issued devices for business whenever possible, since personal devices may have weaker protections.

And there's this tip: Stay off porn sites.