The coronavirus pandemic has sparked a new round of digital transformation. But in many cases, the rapid pace of digital acceleration has enlarged the digital footprint of both businesses and consumers beyond the capacity of our cybersecurity infrastructure to keep up. The scary reality is that the business impact of COVID-19 may be creating the perfect storm for a cybercrime pandemic; digital citizens will have to act aggressively to secure their data before it’s too late.

Traditional cybersecurity had the relative luxury of working to secure a relatively limited digital footprint for most businesses and individuals. Outside of a core system network, the VPN used by on-site personnel and a personal desktop, most companies and individuals didn’t have too much to worry about.

But in our increasingly interconnected and always-online world, digital footprints have a natural tendency to expand. Every online account ID for every digital service, as well as every transaction, communication and internet connection we and our devices make, increases our risk of exposure. Every mark left on the web and every piece of data is a possible point of leverage or access for cybercriminals.

As the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the widespread adoption of online portals, digital apps, remote work and the Internet of Things, we now have to worry about a digital footprint with a far wider and often much more diffuse perimeter. It’s a paradigm shift in what cybersecurity means. And most of the digital services the industry relies on are not ready for the change.

You can start to see the scale of COVID’s effect on cybersecurity when you look at how fast digital businesses have grown during the pandemic. Online banking services, for example, saw a 200% increase in new registrations in April alone, while sales for “buy online, pick-up in store” services, almost all of which require online accounts or digital app registrations from customers, have skyrocketed by 259% over last year. All told, the pandemic has accelerated existing trends in digital business and e-commerce by about five years. That’s five years of growth in less than one year’s time.

But the big problem here is that this sudden surge in digital business overburdens an already strained cybersecurity infrastructure. Even before the pandemic’s spike in digital activity, many businesses still didn’t have adequate cybersecurity protections in place to protect customer data and information. A Thales Data Threat Report from 2019, for example, found that 36% of U.S. retailers had experienced a data breach in the last year.  

COVID’s digital transformation, by enlarging the digital footprint and increasing risk exposure surfaces for businesses, has only made things worse. In a recent study by the Ponemon Institute, 82% of IT and C-suite respondents reported at least one cybersecurity breach resulting from digital transformation efforts made within the last year. Worse still, over half of respondents said their organization currently lacks the capacity to fully measure the cyber hygiene of their enlarged digital footprint. So, it’s no wonder that when the World Economic Forum asked 350 of the world’s top risk experts to outline the most concerning risks for a post-COVID-19 world, 50% said they were worried about an increase in cybercrime.

The fact is that identity fraud, data breaches and hacks are not a question of “if” in today’s digital environment, but only a question of “when.” Cybercriminals can and will exploit our vulnerabilities and lack of preparation in the months to come. And in many cases, they already have: 71 percent of IT professionals globally report an increased incidence of cybercrime since the pandemic began.

But as frightening as the cybersecurity situation is, we have no reason to be pessimistic about the future. It’s never too late for companies and consumers to upgrade and enhance their cybersecurity protections, and anyone concerned about their cybersecurity can still easily acquire the tools and resources they need to protect themselves.

In part, preparing a more secure digital future will require a change of mindset. Many people still think of cybersecurity as a big-ticket issue reserved for digital experts and IT specialists. But in our age of remote work, personal smart devices and online consumption, it’s the individual who needs to manage their risk exposure and protect their privacy; no one can afford to rely on the cybersecurity infrastructure of the digital services they use.

But you can’t protect yourself against unknown risks, and most people don’t even know where to begin assessing their digital exposure and quantifying their digital footprint. That’s a big reason why, at IDX, we’ve launched IDX Privacy as a platform specifically geared to enable ordinary individuals to get a quick and streamlined overview of their digital privacy and security. In addition to giving users access to a toolbox of technologies, from dark web scanners and tracking blockers to password protection assistance, IDX Privacy analyzes a user’s digital footprint and provides both a privacy score and personalized security guidelines. It’s one way users can get a handle on the risk exposure.

Digital innovation is often superb for the company bottom line, and no one will argue with the added convenience and ease of digital technology. But the rapid digital acceleration we’re experiencing during the pandemic comes with significant cybersecurity costs. People need to know the risks, and start to plan and act accordingly.