IBM: Pandemic-Borne Digital Habits Causing Increased Business Security Risks


IBM Security’s global survey examining consumers’ digital behaviours during the pandemic, as well as their long-term impact on cybersecurity, has discovered that digital habits created during the COVID-19 restrictions are causing security risks for businesses.

The study found that preferences for convenience often outweighed security and privacy concerns among individuals – leading to poor choices around passwords and other cybersecurity behaviours.

Consumers’ lax approach to security, combined with rapid digital transformation by businesses during the pandemic, may provide attackers with further ammunition to propagate cyberattacks across industries – from ransomware to data theft.

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According to IBM Security X-Force, bad personal security habits also carry over to the workplace and can lead to costly security incidents for companies, with compromised user credentials representing one of the top root sources of cyberattacks in 2020.

The global survey of 22,000 individuals in 22 markets, including the Middle East across the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of IBM Security, identified the following effects of the pandemic on consumer security behaviours:

  • Digital boom will outlast pandemic protocols: Middle East respondents created, on average, 21 new online accounts during the pandemic – exercise and wellness, shopping and retail, and social media were the most popular categories. With 26 per cent not planning to delete or deactivate these new accounts, consumers will have an increased digital footprint for years to come, greatly expanding the attack surface for cybercriminals.
  • Account overload leads to password fatigue: The surge in digital accounts has led to lax password behaviors, with 91per cent of the Middle East respondents admitting to reusing credentials at least some of the time. This means a majority of new accounts created during the pandemic likely relied on reused email and password combinations, which were already exposed via data breaches over the past decade.
  • Convenience outweighs security and privacy: Half of the Middle East millennials would rather place an order using a potentially insecure app or website vs. call or go to a physical location in person. With users more likely to overlook security concerns for the convenience of digital ordering, the burden of security will fall more heavily on companies providing these services to avoid fraud.
  • Accelerating telehealth and Digital ID: As consumers lean further into digital interactions, these behaviours also have the potential to spur adoption of emerging technologies in a variety of settings – from telehealth to digital identity.