We all know the world has changed a lot over the past couple of years, and that the COVID-19 pandemic is, at least partially, among the main culprits of all the sudden changes we’ve witnessed. What many don’t know, however, is that some of the changes we’ve gone through (such as the switch to hybrid work, for example) have also generated a ripple effect in terms of cybersecurity challenges.
In this article, we discuss cybersecurity risks and challenges of the “new normal”, hybrid work. Read on if you want to find out more.
The Rise in Cybersecurity Risks in the New Hybrid Work Environment
Hybrid work comes with plenty of benefits for all types of employees, of course. But even so, it also comes with a fair share of risks as well, such as increased cybersecurity issues. It’s not us saying us, it’s pure data:
- Approximately 30% of organizations have seen a spike in the number of cyber attack attempts since the beginning of the pandemic.
- 61% of all the malware sent to companies targeted remote workers (specifically through cloud applications).
- More than half of all IT workers feel they are concerned about future cyber attacks.
80% of global businesses believe their remote workers have the know-how and the technology needed to handle cyberthreats. Yet, almost three quarters of these businesses also admitted they are likely to be affected by a cybersecurity attack and half of them said they have already been breached.
Why Remote Work Creates More Cybersecurity Risks
Working remotely and in hybrid workspaces can be extremely gratifying both for businesses and for employees. Even so, there are cybersecurity risks that come with this type of workplace strategy, mostly associated with:
- Unclear or inconsistently enforced cybersecurity policies;
- Insufficient monitoring and investigation of cyber threats;
- Lack of or insufficient security training, which can turn remote workers into convenient targets for malicious hackers
- Increased number of distractions that can be attractive, but can also turn into cybersecurity threats (such as malicious social media links, for example, which can be a gateway into a fully-fledged cyberattack)
As mentioned above, in order to protect your company from an attack, one of the most important aspects is to equip your employees with all the right tools and knowledge they need. Improving their awareness of how they are at risk in this type of workplace environment is key.
For instance, some of the cybersecurity topics you might want to discuss with your remote team include the following:
- Security awareness and communication related to social media;
- The role of filters, whitelists and blacklists in cybersecurity;
- Malware and other malicious software detection and removal;
- Use of strong passwords for remote workers;
- Policies and procedures for accessing their sensitive data remotely.
- Why the security audits are so important
- How to prepare for a cybersecurity audit?
A systematic approach is very important if you want to be able to detect cyberattacks and malware. This means that for each issue you need to have a separate security solution in place.
Additionally, one of your main objectives is to identify as many as possible of the known security risks as early as possible. In fact, this should be done as soon as the remote team becomes active. This way, you can start addressing risks before they become a problem and prevent their potential consequences from developing into a full-blown attack.
Cybersecurity Challenges in the Hybrid Workplace
Although similar in nature (in the sense that both are focused on flexibility, hybrid workplaces and remote work policies do pose different challenges -- including, but not limited to the cybersecurity realm). More specifically, some of the cybersecurity challenges that come with a hybrid workplace include the following:
- Increased use of cloud-based applications for remote work;
- Remote workers need to access sensitive data remotely;
- Cyberattackers targeting remote workers specifically;
- Insufficient monitoring, investigation of cyber threats;
- Lack of security training for employees
Lack of software and hardware infrastructure to support safe data transfer and communications for both workers who are remote and those who choose to come into an office environment.
Let's take a closer look at some of the root causes behind all these problems.
Lack of Cybersecurity Awareness among Employees
One of the greatest challenges facing your organization is to hire employees with good cybersecurity awareness. For this reason, it’s important to have a way for them to gain this knowledge, so they can stay up-to-date with the latest technology trends and also remain one step ahead of cybercriminals.
The fact that remote workers are becoming more common is already enough to understand that cybersecurity awareness is an urgent key issue for companies who are ready for this change.
Cloud Security Risks
Cloud-based applications are basically the same as any other application, they are here to make your life easier. But what may not be clear to everyone is that these applications introduce another layer of complexity in the management of data.
They also open us up to new cybersecurity risks, bringing with them a whole new set of overhead challenges for IT departments.
No Control Over Remote Endpoints
Unlike traditional IT environments where IT departments can set access parameters in order to control remote endpoints, in hybrid work environments this aspect becomes much more complicated.
This is because in hybrid work environments, employees need to be able to access sensitive data whenever they are on or offline, which means that the rules that governed the use of endpoints when they were mostly in an office environment become obsolete.
One way to keep up is by performing regular security audits of your cloud applications and examining for potential threats. It is essential to keep in mind that the lack of strict leadership in hybrid work environments can give rise to data leaks, which are arguably one of the main causes behind the frequent reports of data breaches.
So, in order to prevent this from happening, it is important that your organization makes sure that all sensitive data is secured in a highly secure environment. This includes basic infrastructure security measures.
No Strong Data Protection and Authentication
Another problem that is common with hybrid work environments is the fact that remote workers need to access sensitive data from anywhere in the world. This obviously means that they will be more exposed to potential attacks that target them specifically, even when they do not have access to their office computers.
No Physical Security and Monitoring of Virtual Workspaces
The lack of physical security measures in hybrid workspaces makes them highly difficult to monitor. This means that although the ability for distributed teams to communicate securely is one of the most important factors in ensuring productivity, it is also one of the key factors that can put organizations at risk.
Ways to Ensure a More Secure Hybrid Workplace
How to better handle remote working in a hybrid workplace?
The first step is to set up policies that are accepted by employees. This will help you prevent risks before they manifest into real incidents.
It is important for your company to have a program in place that can address data protection, changes in monitoring activities, vulnerability management, the processes of planning the overall architecture of the hybrid workplace environment and how to manage its use.
Secondly, you need to have an independent team in place that can do thorough security risk assessments.
The third step is to vet your remote workers. They should not only have the required skills to be able to work in a remote environment, but they should also understand the challenges that are involved with it.
Additionally, you should also perform background checks on each employee. This way, you are making sure that they are fit to work in a secure environment and that their past does not pose any potential danger to your organization.
Finally, it is essential to make sure that your employees know their responsibilities when using the hybrid workspace. They should know how they need to act according to certain rules and policies, especially when it comes to protecting sensitive data.
Here is more detailed information on how, more exactly, to prevent cybersecurity challenges in a hybrid environment:
Provide Regular Cybersecurity Trainings for Employees
It is essential to have regular training for the employees so they can keep up with the latest trends in technology. This way, you are able to minimize the risk of cybersecurity attacks that may be driven by a lack of knowledge about emerging security threats.
Extra attention should be given to phishing emails, physical security, password hygiene, and the risks associated with public Wi-Fi networks, as these tend to be some of the most common gateways for cybercriminals activities.
Support Your Remote and Hybrid Employees with the Right Tools
When it comes to hybrid work environments, there are certain tools that can help remote employees feel more comfortable and at home. They will also make it easier for them to act according to the rules and policies of your organization.
For example, you can choose to use one-time passwords or physical authentication keys in order to keep remote access procedures safe. You should also use VPNs so you can increase the security of the connection to remote endpoints.
Likewise, all of your tools (hardware and software alike) should be thoroughly considered before implementation, precisely because they need to fit both remote and in-office work. From your office room booking software to your sound systems, everything needs to be perfectly aligned with your hybrid workers' needs -- it not only makes them happier, but it also makes your workspace safer too, as it provides you control over the tools your team uses at all times.
Implement Multiple Layers of Security
You know what they say: prevention is better than curing. Prevention is certainly the key to ensuring maximum security in hybrid work environments. Having multiple layers of security will make it harder for potential attackers to break through your defenses, as there are multiple points of failure. This is an essential aspect of any solid cybersecurity strategy.
Stopping potential attacks at the gateway point with a dedicated gateway appliance can be used as the first line of defense against various cyber-attacks. However, you should keep in mind that it will not be enough on its own.
When it comes to cybersecurity, hybrid workspaces might be a little more challenging than in-office workplace strategies. At the same time, though, the benefits of hybrid work far outweigh the disadvantages (which, to be fair, are mostly related to procedures and re-adapting your strategies to the "new normal" and the hybrid paradigm). Keep a watchful eye on your security processes, train your team to be wary of potential threats, and you will reap all the benefits of hybrid workspaces!