Overcoming Cybersecurity Challenges in a Hybrid Work Environment

Publication date: Jun 29, 2021

Last Published: Jul 08, 2021

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Read Time : 6 minutes

As much as everyone would like to see the COVID-19 pandemic go away and never return, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the time for organizations to bring all of their employees back to offices isn’t here just yet.

In fact, the days when masses of employees commuted to work every day (while spending a lot of time in traffic jams), only to spend the next eight or more hours in uncomfortable cubicles or noisy open-plan offices may never return.

Why? Because the pandemic has shown us a better way to work, one where employees enjoy greater location independence, better work-life balance, and fewer work-related expenses. The new way of working is so attractive that 83 percent of employees will want to work once a week from home, according to PWC.

These so-called hybrid workers will split their work time between working at the office and working remotely, enjoying the best of both worlds.

The only one who isn’t joyful about the future of work are cybersecurity professionals, who are fully aware of the cybersecurity challenges associated with hybrid work environments.

This new trend of working from home brings a lot of challenges in cybersecurity for remote workers you must be considering.

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How Hybrid Work Environments Increase the Opportunities for Cyber Attackers

When employees work from two different locations, often using two sets of work devices, the opportunities for attackers to launch attacks effectively double. Here are some of the biggest risks of the hybrid work model:

  • Unsecured home networks: Most employees don’t understand network security beyond knowing that it’s a good idea to secure their home Wi-Fi network with a password. They don’t know how strong the password should be, and they also are not aware of different Wi-Fi security standards.
  • Stolen or lost work devices: The average office is much better physically secured than the average home, and expensive work laptops are a magnet for thieves. There’s also the possibility of work devices getting lost at airports and other public places.
  • Lackluster patching: Unpatched devices are a huge cybersecurity problem because they are susceptible to known exploits, which cybercriminals are eager to take advantage of. Unlike IT professionals, employees often don’t realize how important patching it, or they knowingly ignore available patches because they don’t want to restart their devices.  
  • Proliferation of shadow IT: The term shadow IT describes the use of information technology systems, devices, software, applications, and services without explicit IT department approval. The hybrid work model creates the perfect breeding ground for shadow IT by giving employees the freedom to customize their home work environment.
  • Targeted phishing attacks: Phishers understand that employees working from remote locations are more likely to be distracted. They also know that remote employees can’t simply grab the nearest colleague and ask for a second opinion on a suspicious email message, which only motivates them to launch more targeted phishing attacks.

Because of these and other risks of the hybrid work model, organizations need to adjust their cybersecurity strategies accordingly in order to keep dangerous cyber threats at bay.

Step 1: Support Hybrid Workers with the Right Tools

Hybrid workers can’t effectively do their work unless they have access to the right tools. What you absolutely want to avoid is your employees taking their IT needs into their own hands and equipping themselves with all kinds of software applications without your knowledge.

It’s much better to be proactive and build a comprehensive hybrid work toolbox that includes:

  • Secure cloud storage solutions like Microsoft OneDrive, Google Drive, or Dropbox.
  • Collaboration applications like Microsoft Teams, Slack, or Chanty.
  • Project management tools like Microsoft Project, Asana, or Basecamp.
  • Video conferencing software like Microsoft Teams, Zoom, or Skype.
  • Password managers like Bitwarden, LastPass, or 1Password.

These and other software solutions can greatly increase the productivity of employees who spend some of their time in the office and some working form remote locations, and they also create a safer work environment by reducing the need to share sensitive information over email.

Step 2: Implement Multiple Layers of Security

The hybrid work model creates a large and blurry network perimeter, and you need multiple layers of security to defend it against external and internal threats alike. The most important layers include:

  • Endpoint protection: Modern endpoint protection solutions harness the power of machine learning to quickly find and remediate fileless threats, zero-day threats, ransomware, and other advanced attacks. Such solutions are available from many different vendors, and they should be used to protect every single endpoint, from desktop computers to mobile devices.
  • Encryption: All sensitive data should be encrypted both at rest and in transit. The good news is that virtually all popular enterprise-grade software applications already support end-to-end encryption, and modern operating systems come with full disk encryption capabilities to minimize the consequences of physical device theft.
  • Advanced email filtering: Email is still the most common attack vector for social engineering scams and malware, so it only makes sense to catch as many malicious emails as early as possible, which is where advanced email filtering comes in, quietly working in the background and shielding hybrid workers from online dangers.
  • Vulnerability assessments: You can’t reliably protect your hybrid workers unless you are aware of security gaps within your hybrid work environment. A vulnerability assessment performed by a reputable third party can tell you if you’re susceptible to any known vulnerabilities and recommend their remediation or mitigation.
  • Multi-factor authentication (MFA): Passwords alone just don’t cut it these days. To reliably defend yourself against password-based attacks, you should implement MFA and require all employees to present two or more pieces of evidence during authentication.

Step 3: Ongoing Cybersecurity Awareness Training

According to a survey of 250 IT decision-makers and 2,000 working professionals published by Tessian, entitled “Securing the Future of Hybrid Working,” almost 60 percent of IT leaders plan to introduce more cybersecurity awareness training if their company adopts a permanent hybrid work environment.

These and other IT leaders who invest in cybersecurity awareness training want to prevent their employees from being the weakest link in the cybersecurity chain by re-educating them on the best cybersecurity practices and teaching them to recognize threats like spam, phishing, ransomware, and man-in-the-middle attacks.

We’re Here to Help Any Work Environment

Over the last year, all organizations have had to adapt to unprecedented change. One result of this change is the emergence of the hybrid work model.

This flexible model comes with its own share of cybersecurity challenges, which stem from the blurry network perimeter created by employees using a mix of work and personal devices from their homes, offices, and other locations.

We at OSIbeyond can help you overcome these challenges by helping you implement the cybersecurity strategies described in this article. Contact us today for more information.

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