Discover why hybrid working environments could increase cybersecurity risks for your organization and how you can prevent those threats.
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted lives and businesses worldwide, and forced organizations everywhere to take a new approach to business as usual.
Many companies now operate in a hybrid working environment — a term that encompasses various specific approaches to working in the office or at home, but ultimately refers to a more flexible working arrangement.
In hybrid working environments, a company might designate some days for in-person collaboration or meetings, while reserving other days for remote work. A work environment might also be considered “hybrid” if some employees work remotely all the time, and other employees work from a centralized location or office.
Whatever the arrangement, hybrid work environments ultimately offer employees more autonomy by combining sociability, structure, and flexibility for a more ideal work culture.
The benefits of a hybrid working environment during a global pandemic are obvious. Foremost, when employees work from home, that eliminates the need for social distancing, sanitization, and mask wearing protocols in the workplace.
Some unexpected benefits of hybrid working environments have emerged as well, such as increased productivity, overall employee happiness, and lower operational costs. The business world has noticed those benefits, and many organizations are considering how to embrace hybrid environments for the long term.
OK — but what are the implications of that shift for cybersecurity?
Remote work means 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.
The FBI recently reported that complaints to its Cyber Division now run as high as 4,000 a day — a 400 percent increase from pre-pandemic levels.
Interpol is also seeing an “alarming rate of cyberattacks aimed at major corporations, governments, and critical infrastructure.” Although these attacks affect businesses in all industries, corporations, governments, and critical healthcare organizations have been major targets.
A report from Microsoft shows that certain types of attacks are becoming more common as well. COVID-19-themed attacks, where cybercriminals weave the pandemic into their phishing or social engineering scams, have jumped to more than 20,000 a day.
The rising number of hybrid work environments is one reason for this notable increase in cybercrime. Workers are moving between secure office environments with enterprise network monitoring, firewalls, and event and data analytics; to vulnerable home networks that may contain rogue devices, weak passwords, or outdated equipment.
Whether employees work on-site or remotely, the hybrid working environment is now a permanent cybersecurity risk for businesses.
Common Cyber Risks in Hybrid Work Environments
To enable hybrid work environments, companies increasingly rely on cloud technology and remote connectivity tools including virtual private networks (VPNs). While hackers continue to exploit vulnerabilities in VPN gateways, cyberattacks on cloud services have grown more than 600 percent and ransomware attacks have increased seven-fold.
Similarly, the number of brute-force attacks on Windows Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) is also rising significantly. February 2021 saw 377.5 million brute-force attacks worldwide, up from 93 million at the beginning of 2020.
If your organization operates under a hybrid work environment, 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.
Weak or non-existent home Wi-Fi security, family laptops, absent firewalls, lack of antivirus software, unsecure mobile devices, and poor security hygiene are among the problems security professionals face when employees work remotely.
A lack of internet connectivity or bandwidth can also delay software-update patching; that leaves weak points open for cybercriminals to exploit. The use of unauthorized software (“shadow IT”), which could contain malware, can also jeopardize a business’s cybersecurity posture.
Data protection and authentication may be weak.
An expanded, internet-based perimeter makes protecting sensitive information more difficult. Accessing sensitive data remotely requires stronger checks and balances than needed 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 enable the physical or manual disposal of sensitive information.
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 lockdown.
Remote workers are more prone to social engineering scams like phishing attacks. In 2020 alone, Google registered a record 2 million phishing websites. One wrong move from a remote worker can instantly result in a breach, and may cause significant financial and reputational damage. (Check out this list of common cybersecurity threats for more on this topic.)
Although the cybersecurity risks that a hybrid work environment poses to organizations may appear to outweigh the benefits, your organization can manage these risks.
Managing Cyber Risk in a Hybrid Work Environment
If your organization has adopted a hybrid working environment, you must rethink how you manage your infrastructure and provide tools and resources to keep employee and company data secure.
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, while others might use more restrictive policies for remote work connectivity.
Nevertheless, managing cybersecurity risks in hybrid environments requires a hybrid approach — a mix of technical controls and user behavior training that is secure by design.
Here are some things you can do to address key concerns when building a protected work environment:
Use a company VPN.
A virtual private network can be used in tandem with remote desktop protocols to secure your 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.
IT 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 to do so), security and IT departments can’t manage all the tools on which remote workers depend. Those added entry points remain open for unauthorized users and security threats.
Implementing full-access and identity-management strategies will assure your team members working on premises as well as those working remotely do so securely.
Develop a security-minded culture.
A security-oriented culture can help your organization minimize information security risks among a dispersed workforce. Providing frequent security training (virtually and in person) can help instill greater 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. Providing cybersecurity training will ensure that your team is aware of common phishing tactics, and will establish best practices for network security.
ZenGRC Keeps Your Team Alert to Cyber Risks
While the pandemic may not have invented new cyber threats, the emergence of the hybrid working environment has clearly dialed up the volume.
Ultimately, the goal of cybersecurity risk management is to protect your organization from cyber attackers and data leakages or data breaches that could compromise your business. In hybrid work environments, keeping your data secure is more difficult than ever before.
ZenGRC from Reciprocity simplifies cybersecurity risk and compliance with complete views of control environments and easy access to information for risk management, enabling your organization to meet its 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 up to date 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.
With ZenGRC, a team of cybersecurity professionals is always looking out for your organization and its assets to make sure you get the best protection against security breaches and cyberattacks.
For more information on how 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 Zen way.