Many companies now operate in a hybrid work environment. The term encompasses any number of specific workplace arrangements, but ultimately refers to a more flexible environment where employees spend a significant amount of time not in the office.

So what are the implications of that shift for cybersecurity?

Clearly hybrid work environments have a greater reliance on technology. That can increase your organization’s risk of a cybersecurity attack. Indeed, cybercrime has been on the rise since the pandemic started in March 2020 and hybrid work soared in popularity.

A few months into the pandemic, for example, Interpol reported an “alarming rate of cyberattacks aimed at major corporations, governments, and critical infrastructure.” The rise in hybrid work is one reason for this notable increase in cybercrime. Moreover, hybrid work is here to stay. It is a permanent cybersecurity risk for businesses.

What Is Hybrid Workplace Cybersecurity?

Hybrid workplace cybersecurity refers to security protocols and measures an organization uses to protect its data and technology assets when operations include both in-office and remote work. These measures include access controls, firewalls, data backup and recovery, encryption, and regular security assessments and training.

Under the hybrid work model, an “owner” is responsible for specific tasks, such as identifying team members, managing folder structures, and maintaining the confidentiality of sensitive information. Since the model includes firm governance flexibility to collaborate and communicate, employees can continue working securely regardless of their location.

What Is the Biggest Cybersecurity Challenge with the Hybrid Workforce?

The biggest security challenge with the hybrid workspace is maintaining a secure and cohesive IT environment despite the added complexity of multiple locations, devices, and network integrations.

Let’s discuss some of the root causes behind this problem in more detail.

Cloud security risks

Cloud-based applications make life easier, especially when working remotely; but not without adding another layer of complexity to data management. In addition, they expose networks to new cybersecurity risks and data breaches, bringing a new set of IT challenges.

Lack of security awareness and training among employees

Your employees will need appropriate cybersecurity awareness and training. That means you must educate them, so they can remain current with the latest technology trends and stay ahead of cybercriminals.

Expanded attack surface

When employees access company resources from various locations and devices, cybercriminals have more potential entry points to exploit. This includes unsecured home networks, personal devices, and public Wi-Fi hotspots.

Also, there’s a lack of strict leadership in hybrid work environments, because IT departments cannot set access parameters to control remote endpoints. That may give rise to data leaks.

Lack of strong data protection and authentication

Another problem with a hybrid workplace is that remote workers need access to sensitive information anywhere in the world. This makes them more vulnerable to targeted attacks, even when using their office computers.

A lack of physical security measures in hybrid workplaces also makes them difficult to monitor, which is yet another security risk.

Common Cyber Risks in Hybrid Work Environments

Suppose your organization operates in a hybrid work environment. In that case, it’s important to recognize the cybersecurity risks this model poses and how you can be better equipped to protect your intellectual property.

Here are some of the most common types of cybersecurity risks in hybrid work environments.

Remote environments are less secure

Working at home brings a host of security challenges. Among them, weak or non-existent home Wi-Fi security, family laptops shared by numerous people, no firewalls, lack of antivirus software, unsecured mobile devices, and poor security hygiene.

A lack of internet connectivity or bandwidth can also delay the installation of security patches, leaving weak points open for cybercriminals to exploit. The use of unauthorized software (“shadow IT”) that might contain malware can also jeopardize a business’s cybersecurity posture.

Data protection and authentication may be weak

The larger your organization’s “attack surface,” because you have more people working remotely in IT environments you might not fully understand, the more difficult it is to protect sensitive data. Accessing sensitive data remotely requires stronger checks and balances than necessary in a traditional office environment, because attackers can more easily fake digital identities and hijack data remotely.

Personally identifiable information (PII), credit card information, business emails, browsing history, online purchases, and social media accounts can be easily accessed by cybercriminals to falsify a virtual identity or for financial gain.

It’s harder to monitor virtual workspaces

Physical offices allow you to control who enters the workspace, and give you more power to dispose of sensitive information. Remote locations give you less.

Timely disposal of information in computer systems is important because holding data for longer periods of time increases the risk of compromise and can pose a liability. Remote access gives hackers yet another avenue of attack.

Distractions at home lead to increased cybercrime

Cybercriminals pay attention to human psychology and stress-related pandemic issues, and distractions at home have been a major cause of security errors during lockdowns.

Remote workers are more prone to social engineering scams such as phishing attacks. In 2020 alone, Google registered a record two million phishing websites. One wrong move from a remote worker can result in a breach and may cause significant financial and reputational damage. (Check out this list of common cybersecurity threats for more.)

Although the cybersecurity risks created by a hybrid work environment can outweigh the benefits to your organization, that’s not not always true. You can manage the risks.

How Do You Secure a Hybrid Workplace?

Consider the following best practices to lock in cybersecurity when implementing a hybrid workforce model.

1. Adopt a zero trust policy

Zero trust is a security strategy designed to protect enterprise infrastructure from end to end by taking an “allowist” approach to accessing resources. In other words, users and devices can only access resources they’ve explicitly been granted permission for by the IT department.

This integrated approach to security is in sharp contrast to the legacy perimeter-based cybersecurity model. The latter divides users and devices into “outside the perimeter” and “inside the perimeter,” allowing all inside users and devices to access any resources they want.

2. Use a robust endpoint management solution

An endpoint management solution can simplify the process of securing a hybrid IT environment. They provide IT admins a centralized view of all endpoints, helping to reduce oversight and increase efficiency with remote policy updates, patching, and other security measures.

3. Invest in employee training

Human error is one of the leading causes of cyberattacks. This makes cybersecurity awareness training crucial for businesses to control damages caused by employee error.

Educate employees on key topics such as cybersecurity best practices and personal device usage. You should also hold mandatory training to help employees identify phishing attempts and other types of cyber threats.

4. Prioritize collaboration security

You cannot improve hybrid workplace cyber security without improving collaboration security.

Collaboration apps such as Slack, Zoom, and Google Teams are popular hybrid workspace tools, but their security features may not always provide enough protection against cyberattacks. For example, you may have a policy that allows sharing a certain type of file over Slack, but may prohibit it over Zoom. This kind of fragmentation can create security vulnerabilities.

Built-in cybersecurity protection may not be sufficient. While vendors have been steadily beefing up the security of their offerings, they are still not perfect. So evaluate a range of collaboration security tools and platforms to keep your organization’s collaboration security strong.

Managing Cyber Risk in a Hybrid Work Environment

If your organization has adopted a hybrid workforce environment, you must rethink how you manage your infrastructure and provide tools and resources to secure employee and company data.

No one-size-fits-all approach governs how organizations should handle hybrid work security. Some organizations will choose solutions that foster better team collaboration and engagement; others might use more restrictive policies for remote work connectivity.

Nevertheless, managing cybersecurity risks in hybrid environments requires its own hybrid approach: a mix of technical controls and user behavior training that is secure by design.

Here are some ways to address key concerns when building a protected work environment.

Use a company VPN

A virtual private network (VPN) can be used in tandem with remote desktop protocols to secure communication channels between the office and remote employees. VPNs are the most practical solution to minimize data privacy and security concerns, as they encrypt all the user’s connection data.

VPNs essentially create a data tunnel between an exit node (a protected device in your business location) and a device located anywhere. This will allow your employees to access company data in a more secure way, and it protects your data from third parties.

Establish ID-management strategies

Identity-based security plays an even bigger role in a hybrid work environment. When employees use their home network to connect to work resources (and rely on personal devices), security and IT departments can’t manage all the tools remote workers use. As a result, those added entry points remain open for unauthorized users and security threats.

Implementing full-access and identity-management strategies will assure your team members do so securely, whether they’re working on-premises or remotely.

Develop a security-minded culture

A security-oriented culture can help your organization minimize information security risks among a dispersed workforce. Frequent security training (virtually and in-person) can increase awareness among your remote workforce and enhance overall security.

While humans are the weakest link in any cybersecurity program, they can also be its strongest defense. High-quality cybersecurity training will assure that your team is aware of common phishing tactics and will establish best practices for network security.

Keep Your Hybrid Workplace Secure with the ZenGR

While the pandemic may not have invented new cyber threats, the emergence of the hybrid working environment has heightened the urgency for good cybersecurity.

Ultimately, cybersecurity risk management aims to protect your organization from attackers and data leaks or data breaches that could compromise your business. In hybrid work environments, keeping your data secure is more difficult than ever.

The ZenGRC simplifies cybersecurity risk and compliance with complete views of control environments and easy access to information for risk management, enabling your organization to meet cybersecurity requirements across a variety of frameworks.

The easy-to-use dashboard provides an integrated view of your data and compliance requirements, alerting you to gaps and helping you to fill them.

ZenGRC also stays updated in real-time with changing compliance regulations, so you don’t have to. With ZenGRC, you always know where you stand, allowing you to fix gaps in compliance as soon as they occur. Moreover, a team of cybersecurity professionals is always looking out for your organization and its assets to ensure you get the best protection against security breaches and cyberattacks.

For more information on how the ZenGRC can help your organization anticipate cybersecurity threats in a hybrid work environment, contact us for a demo today.

Worry-free compliance management is the RiskOptics way.