Before the COVID-19 pandemic spread to every country around the world like uncontrollable wildfire, hardly anyone would predict the cybersecurity landscape to change so much in just one year.
The adaptability of organizations across virtually all industries was tested by a sudden and massive shift toward remote work. Now, in 2021, it’s clear that the shift wasn’t temporary.
According to a survey from Pew Research Center, more than half of employees would like to continue working from home post-pandemic if given the option to do so. Organizations themselves see that the pandemic is far from over and understand that they must be ready for yet another round of lockdowns and social distancing measures.
The hybrid work model, a combination of office and remote work, seems like a natural solution, but it’s not without its fair share of challenges, and figuring out how to keep cyber threats at bay is perhaps the biggest one of them.
Common Cyber Threats for the Hybrid Workforce
When employees spend a part of the week working from home and the rest working from the office, they give cybercriminals twice as many chances to launch targeted attacks that exploit vulnerable work environments and the human nature itself.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the most common cyber threats for the hybrid workforce:
- Social engineering attacks: Phishing, vishing, and smishing are just three social engineering attacks that hybrid workers encounter on a regular basis. While each uses a different method of delivery, they all share the common goal of tricking the victim into doing something that’s against their best interest, such as sharing a password or clicking on a link leading to a fake website.
- Insider threats: Characterized by their origin from inside the targeted organization, insider threats come from people who have or used to have privileged access to internal resources. This includes current employees, former employees, contractors, and even vendors. Because of their origin, insider threats are difficult to detect using conventional cybersecurity tools.
- Data breaches: When all data resides in one centralized and closely guarded location, the risk of a data breach is much lower than when the same data is routinely transferred between the office network and individual home networks of employees who sometimes work from their homes and sometimes from the office. Physical data security also becomes an area of major concern.
Keeping these and other common cyber threats requires organizations to implement a multi-layered cybersecurity strategy that combines traditional defenses with effective remote work security strategies.
Tips for Securing a Hybrid Workforce from Cyber Threats
The hybrid work model extends the network perimeter beyond the four walls of the office to include not only employees’ home networks but also the numerous third-party cloud services and infrastructure hybrid workers rely on.
With such a large and blurry network perimeter to secure, organizations must adopt a completely new approach security approach because traditional approaches leave too many holes for cybercriminals to sneak through.
Tip #1: Adopt a Zero Trust Security Approach
Traditional security approaches revolve around security perimeters. A security perimeter can be, for example, the office. The idea is that all devices located inside the security perimeter can be trusted by default.
But as we’ve mentioned, the hybrid work model makes the network perimeter exceedingly difficult to define because it extends it way beyond the office LAN, including cloud-based services and infrastructure, remote and mobile environments, and even IoT devices and other non-conventional IT assets.
Enter the Zero Trust security approach, sometimes known as perimeterless security. As the name suggests, this model is rooted in the following three principles:
- Verify explicitly
- Use least privileged access
- Assume breach
In practice, it means that every access requires must be fully authenticated and authorized before being approved to prevent attackers from infiltrating a remote endpoint and using it to move laterally on the network.
Since there is no one-size-fits-all solution for adopting a Zero Trust security approach, organizations that don’t have any experience with it are encouraged to partner with a Managed IT Services provider to borrow the necessary experience and skills.
Tip #2: Reinforce Your Employee Security Training Program
The EY Global Information Security Survey (EY GISS) revealed that 39 percent of executives consider careless or unaware employees as their top vulnerability to a cyber attack. This statistic is hardly surprising considering that two out of our top three hybrid workforce cyber threats directly involve employees.
But expecting regular employees to know how to recognize and defend themselves against increasingly sophisticated cyber threats threatening remote workers without any prior training is hardly fair.
Instead, organizations should proactively reinforce their employee security training program to include common cybersecurity risks associated with moving between the home office and the actual office. That way, it’s possible to turn employees from the weakest link in the cybersecurity chain into the strongest one.
Tip #3: Implement the Right Technology
There are many technological solutions that can be implemented to increase the security of hybrid workers and the entire organization along with them, including:
- Virtual Private Network (VPN): Hybrid workers typically need to access the main office network and cloud applications remotely, and they may not always be within the range of a trustworthy Wi-Fi network. A VPN creates an encrypted tunnel through which sensitive data can go through without the possibility of being stolen by an unauthorized third party.
- Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA): If there’s one technology whose implementation pays dividends, then it’s MFA, the use of more than one verification factor to gain access to a protected resource. According to Microsoft, MFA blocks up to 99.9 percent of automated attacks, so not using it is akin to knowingly leaving the front door wide open.
- Full-disk encryption: When employees work from more than one location, their work devices typically travel with them, increasing the risk of device theft and the resulting data breach. Full-disk encryption can’t prevent an opportunistic thief from snatching an unattended laptop, but it does make it impossible to extract any valuable data from it.
Whenever an organization implements a new technology solution to strengthen its cybersecurity posture, it should support its adoption and use with updated policies and employee training.
Adapting to change is never painless, but the consequences of avoiding the pain can be even more intolerable. It’s becoming increasingly clear that the hybrid work model will be an integral part of the new normal for most organizations, so it’s important to secure it from dangerous cyber threats.
If you’re looking for someone to help you implement the tips described in this article, then look no further than Aligned Technology Solutions. Our diverse portfolio of services and solutions allows us to meet a wide range of needs, and we would be happy to tell you more about them, so get in touch!