How Has Remote Work Changed the Cybersecurity Industry?

Employees previously working remotely have begun returning to their physical offices as lockdown and quarantine measures ease. However, as the uncertainty of COVID-19 lingers, most organizations have opted to maintain virtual and semi-remote working models for the next few months or possibly for good. For instance, Facebook has allowed its employees to work remotely permanently, while Shopify has shifted to digital routines by default.

Unlike physical offices, remote work presents many cybersecurity challenges to organizations. To tackle the cybersecurity challenges presented by these virtual working models, businesses should understand various changes in cybersecurity protocols. Below are some ways that remote work has changed the cybersecurity space.

Increasing Number of Cyberattacks

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, there has been a significant surge in cyberattacks. Hackers have exploited various vulnerabilities, infiltrating and penetrating weak back doors to corporate systems. As of now, the FBI is investigating between 3000 and 4000 cybersecurity issues, an increase from the previous 1000 complaints before the pandemic.

Besides the increasing attacks, hackers target in-demand industries, such as financial, healthcare, manufacturing, and public organizations such as the World Health Organization. Banks and established financial institutions report more than three times attempted cyberattacks with cybercriminals flooding their employees’ email inboxes with virus-related phishing emails.

Changing Attack Surfaces

Migration from physical infrastructure to various teleworking infrastructure has increased the surface area that hackers can exploit for vulnerabilities. This explains why security urgencies have notified the public against the growing number of malware and hacking attempts targeting organizations and individuals. That aside, cybersecurity risks from third parties and business partners have also significantly increased.

Distracted Remote Workforce

Unlike physical offices, remote work has several benefits, among them employee flexibility. While this is good for employees, it has led to many distractions. So to say, it is estimated that 90% of successful cyberattacks are due to human error. Preoccupied with financial stress and personal issues at home, remote workers are very vulnerable to such threats.

Similarly, cybercriminals have adopted new mechanisms that increase the chances of launching successful attacks. For instance, the rampant social engineering cyberattacks can trick them into revealing exclusive information. Remote employees are less vigilant with their cyber hygiene, which increases the success rates of these attacks.

Unexpected Staff Shortage

Organizations also suffer from unexpected shortages as workers, including cybersecurity and IT department experts, take time off to care for their dependents or call in sick. This additionally harms the organization’s ability to handle the already increasing threats. Even employees who thought working remotely was productive before the pandemic are currently juggling forced isolation, limited privacy, loneliness, and their children’s demands for care at home, which lowers productivity.

Since the massive outbreak of the virus, self-reports across the U.S indicate decreased productivity in all sectors. Productivity in professionals and office workers declined by 11%, while that of industrial service workers dropped by 17%.

Multiple Stress Environments

Cybersecurity teams are currently working in an uncertain environment with several crises demanding attention from management and cybersecurity teams continually arising. Challenges brought up by the virus are the baseline for an unknown future. Apart from the virus, businesses should handle unexpected crises and stressful events such as fires, widespread human actions/protests, and hurricanes.

Coping with the Changing Cybersecurity Industry

With the above-mentioned cybersecurity issues, organizations should adopt various coping strategies. Among them include;

  • Assessing the organizations’ risk profile

With companies shifting to remote work, there are significant changes in every organization’s risk profile. Therefore, managers and IT teams should thoroughly assess and monitor the organization’s risk profile for prompt interventions. Some factors that can increase an organization’s cybersecurity risk profile include inadequately tested technologies and emerging digital products that were rapidly deployed to meet rising customer demands during the onset of the pandemic.

  • Adjusting Cybersecurity Strategies

A thorough risk assessment should culminate in modifications to your cybersecurity strategy. Based on the organizations’ risk profile, the management and cybersecurity teams should reevaluate and prioritize cybersecurity budgets and investments to improve their infrastructure.

This includes implementing stopgap measures, such as introducing new cyber risk guidelines, controlling your employees’ access to data and the company network, and hiring qualified cybersecurity experts. Organizations should also invest in advanced security tools that increase private information integrity, thereby preventing data loss, improving access restrictions, and blocking malicious traffic.

  • Promote Employee Cyber Training

Providing sufficient training to your employees on measures to improve cyber hygiene is also important. Employees should be well informed about the potential cyber risks and their role in preventing, detecting, and recovering from these attacks. If any of your employees are veterans, they may be eligible to attain training for free using their G.I. Benefits.

Bottom Line

With uncertainties on the future of the pandemic, remote employees will continue being a target for cybercriminals. Hackers have also adopted advanced hacking strategies, such as the use of artificial intelligence, to increase their chances of success. Therefore, organizations should adopt new and improved cybersecurity strategies that minimize their vulnerabilities.

Adam Hansen