A Look at COVID’s Impact on Data Privacy and Protection | Hacker Noon

After more than a year into the pandemic, it’s clear that COVID-19 will have lasting impacts on data privacy. Digital data has become an indispensable resource, with many companies relying on it to sustain flexible and remote operations. Cybercrime saw a massive uptick as a result, as 2020 broke records for cyber-attack volume and amount of data lost. Traditional cybersecurity methods and technologies have started to show their age. Health data privacy has garnered more attention, but health information led the movement. The general public is now more aware than ever of the risks they may face amid digitization.

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After more than a year into the pandemic, it’s clear that COVID-19 will have lasting impacts. As companies rapidly embraced digital transformation, data privacy and protection have seen some of the most significant changes. COVID data risks and policies will likely far outlast the virus itself.

Amid the pandemic, digital data has become an indispensable resource, with many companies relying on it to sustain flexible and remote operations. This shift was going to happen eventually, but the extremes of COVID-19 accelerated the timeline. As Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella put it, the world saw two years of digital transformation in two months.

As one would expect, this rapid shift towards the digital has had a massive impact on data privacy and protection. Here’s a closer look.

Digitization Has Outpaced Data Protection

Amid the initial mass digitization trend, businesses’ enthusiasm to embrace new technologies often outpaced their security measures. Cloud spending increased 37% in Q1 2020 alone and continued to climb despite overall shrinking IT budgets. This resulted in far more data becoming available online, often with insufficient protection.

In the rush to move to the cloud, many organizations overlooked or underestimated the need to update their security. Cybercrime saw a massive uptick as a result, as 2020 broke records for cyber-attack volume and amount of data lost.

Cloud services and remote workforces aren’t inherently riskier than on-premises alternatives, but they require different approaches to security. As the ongoing cybercrime wave emphasizes, businesses were, by and large, unprepared for that shift. It’s uncertain whether companies will make similar mistakes again in future crises, but amid COVID-19, data use evolved faster than data protection.

Traditional Security Measures Are Becoming Outdated

As part of this digitization trend, traditional cybersecurity methods and technologies have started to show their age. Cybercriminals advanced along with their targets, using new strategies and tools that many businesses’ current tools were insufficient against. As this digitization continues, cybersecurity standards will have to evolve across many industries.

According to Deloitte, only 20% of pre-COVID cyberattacks used previously unseen malware or methods. During the pandemic, that figure rose to 35%, and this trend will likely continue as technology keeps evolving at its current pace. Countermeasures based on older cybercrime trends may quickly become outdated.

As a result, cybersecurity standards are starting to adapt and shift as well. For example, devices using biometric authentication have risen 64% between 2019 and 2020 as traditional credentials fall out of favor. The next few years will likely also see a broader shift towards zero-trust security and AI-enabled continuous monitoring.

Health Data Privacy Has Taken Center Stage

Data privacy as a whole has garnered more attention amid the pandemic, but health information led the movement. Regular COVID tests, vaccination requirements, and contact tracing meant many companies held COVID data and other health information, not just hospitals. This, in turn, led to several questions about the balance between privacy and safety.

In line with past economic downturns, litigation increased amid the pandemic, calling businesses’ data privacy practices into question. While not every company is subject to HIPAA regulations, they may still have a duty to protect employees’ health data. Legal action aside, holding onto this data may make businesses more tempting targets for cybercriminals.

Another issue arises with digital transformation in the health care sector. Technologies like digital vaccine passports and contact tracing apps have significant potential, but without cutting-edge security, they could pose a serious privacy risk. As the medical industry continues to adopt new tech, it must consider these questions.

Public Scrutiny Over Data Privacy Is Growing

COVID data breaches and questions have brought more public attention to data privacy issues. The general public is now more aware than ever of the risks they may face amid rapid digitization. As anxiety over these issues grows, companies will face more scrutiny over their data protection or lack thereof.

A recent survey revealed that 86% of U.S. consumers say they’re increasingly concerned about data privacy. Most of them (68%) aren’t comfortable with how much data companies collect, and almost half (40%) don’t trust companies to use this data ethically. Rising high-profile data breaches amid the pandemic likely influenced and will continue to feed these feelings.

As the public grows more concerned about their data, they’ll be more willing to take action. More will likely leave businesses for a competitor or take legal action if a breach occurs. Businesses will have to take data governance more seriously amid this trend.

COVID-19 Will Leave a Lasting Mark on Data Security

It’s not often that one can point to a turning point in history as it occurs, but COVID-19 is almost certainly one such moment. There will be a clear historical divide between pre-COVID and post-COVID data privacy and protection.

The pandemic’s initial impact on data privacy was negative, with skyrocketing cybercrime and increasing vulnerabilities. However, in response, data protection standards and expectations are evolving. If businesses respond appropriately, COVID-19 could spur a wave of improved cybersecurity strategies.

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