The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is unlike anything we have ever experienced. If anyone had said 2020 would see all nonessential businesses shut and what seems like the entire planet working from home in fear of an invisible enemy, they would have probably been called crazy, yet here we are. While the world may seem like a post-apocalyptic mess minus the zombies at the moment, a lot of the tech landscape is actually seeing sunshine and roses amid the coronavirus devastation, especially in entertainment, collaboration, and security. While Netflix has had a $ 1.25 billion increase in this first quarter as compared to last year’s first quarter, video game sales are up 35 percent with Amazon being one of the main outlets. Speaking of Amazon, an interesting article on CNN highlighted how the pandemic has, in fact, strengthened the juggernaut’s position even further, right from its cloud services to its e-commerce and entertainment platforms. Amazon is also looking to hire 100,000 new employees for its warehouse and delivery operations.
Managing a remote workforce
If you had asked all the different heads of organizations a few months ago whether it was possible to have a totally remote workforce, the majority would have probably said no. Yet this pandemic has taught us that apart from those involved in delivering essential services, the rest of us can pretty much work from home. Not only does that make years of travel to and from the office place feel pointless, but it also points out that we are truly capable of impossible feats in the absence of a choice.
While the real world is seeing designers make protective face masks and automobile manufacturers build ventilators, the virtual scramble to facilitate all these new remote workers has seen a similar response. What’s great to see is that while remote work is without a doubt the only option for business continuity, almost all major players have foregone the urge to maximize profit during the pandemic and are providing many of their services for free. This includes a number of premium remote collaboration, security, and monitoring tools.
Coronavirus and tech: Stepping up to the challenge
Zoom, a name that we’re hearing more and more of during the lockdown, has lifted the time limits on the free versions of its video conferencing tool for heavily impacted countries like China, Italy, and the United States. Zoom, quite like its name, has zoomed in out of nowhere and owned the video conferencing market in a way that is almost as unprecedented as the pandemic itself. In fact, an analyst at PitchBook even went as far as calling the present crisis “tailor-made for Zoom.”
Other makers of collaboration and video conferencing products are seeing a massive surge in usage as well. Microsoft Teams saw a 775 percent increase in usage during the lockdown in Italy. Additionally, Microsoft Teams has seen what they are calling a significant spike in usage with over 44 million daily users generating over 900 million daily meeting minutes! Similarly, Cisco’s Webex users hosted over 70 million meetings in March while remote-connectivity tool LogMeIn reported a tenfold increase in usage.
The return of the VPN
Old-school VPNs are also making a major comeback amid the pandemic with a record number of inquiries into this almost ancient tech. While some VPNs like Atlas, for example, have seen a 124 percent increase in daily usage, others like NordVPN in the UK have reported a 165 percent increase in usage as well as a 400 percent increase in sales. Research also suggests the U.S. has the highest VPN usage among countries on lockdown, followed by Italy and Spain.
Contrary to popular belief that VPNs are only used to hide your IP address so you can surf anonymously or access geo-restricted content, VPNs offer decent protection for employees working from home during the lockdown. VPNs work by creating a secure, encrypted connection between the employee’s device and the corporate network. This not only makes it difficult for hackers to steal sensitive information but also helps safeguard against nosy governments and ISPs at the same time. VPNs also enhance overall security and performance, at least to a degree.
No rest for the wicked
Cybercrime isn’t taking a break due to COVID-19 and sadly what we’re seeing is quite the contrary. Not only has there been a sharp increase in phishing and ransomware attack, but attackers are actually using the pandemic as bait! This is why it’s super important to check the URLs clearly before you click to download an application that you think might be COVID-19 related. Additionally, just because you’re using a VPN doesn’t make you invincible against attacks.
VPNs are only as secure as the devices they’re hosted on and are definitely not impenetrable. In fact, not too long ago NordVPN had its security compromised by the simple act of a datacenter adding additional accounts. This is why it’s equally important to educate employees on the right procedures to ensure their devices are properly secured before they connect to a network. This is exactly what AWS has been stressing all along about cloud security — it only works if everyone does their part.
Free security amid the lockdown
While VPNs are indeed getting a lot of attention, what’s great to see is the sheer number of modern security companies that have come out and offered their premium products for free during this pandemic, albeit for a limited time. A good example is PagerDuty that’s giving out six free licenses for six months, or Asana Business, the paid version of a project management app that is now free for one year. Other examples include CyberArk’s Alerio that’s free till the end of May, Druva backup and recovery for Office 365, which is now free for six months, and GFI Software’s Kerio Control with VPN security software, which has a three-month free offer.
They say that without the darkness there can be no light and the tech landscape is going to be seeing a lot of darkness in the current coronavirus lockdown. In addition to mass layoffs that are expected in order to curtail expenditure, global IT spending is also expected to decline. Payment structures are also expected to change as organizations may cut salaries or opt for a “pay-for-performance” package as opposed to a fixed salary to get the most of the new remote workforce.
Now to the part about what’s considered “essential” during a pandemic and how that usually doesn’t include making new discoveries and inventions. What this means is that if you were part of the development team for a ground-breaking new tool that would have been awesome but isn’t deemed essential right now, you can pretty much put all that on the back burner for the next six months at least. In fact, a survey conducted by ETR reported over 20 percent of respondents confirming that they had frozen all new projects in view of the current situation.
Even amid the heartbreak and devastation caused by the coronavirus, the tech landscape is surviving, and in some cases thriving. If you’re somehow involved in the public cloud, gaming, collaboration, entertainment, security, or even e-commerce, the going has never been any better in terms of usage. When you compare the situation with other industries like airlines, automobiles, or hotels, the tech landscape is actually seeing growth in some sectors and bracing for a lot more growth in others even as coronavirus still rages.
While we can only speculate as to when and if life will go back to normal and what that new normal will be, we can be sure we are going to have to rely on technology a whole lot more than we are used to.
Featured image: Shutterstock
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