Digital transformation and the modern workforce posed unique challenges for cybersecurity, but the Covid-19 pandemic caused a seismic shift in the way businesses operate, with many organizations embracing remote work as a necessary response to the pandemic. Now that the pandemic is waning, businesses are faced with the decision of whether to force employees back to the office or to adopt a hybrid approach that combines both remote work and in-office work. The hybrid model has many benefits, including increased productivity and improved work-life balance, but it also introduces significant security risks that must be managed. It is essential to understand the cybersecurity challenges of the new hybrid model with employees straddling the line between the office and remote work.
Understanding the Attack Surface
To understand the cybersecurity risks of the hybrid model, it is important to first understand the attack surface. The attack surface refers to the various entry points that a cybercriminal can use to gain access to a company’s network and data. In the past, the attack surface was relatively simple, with local devices and data contained within a local network. However, the pandemic and the switch to remote work made the attack surface more complex, with employees accessing company data and networks from their own devices and unsecured networks.
The hybrid model is the worst of both worlds from a security perspective, as it requires managing both the local office and the remote workers. Managed and unmanaged devices are connecting from managed and unmanaged networks, further complicating the attack surface. Moreover, the hybrid model is also challenging from a user and productivity perspective. The employees must know which method to use to access which application or resource, which can be different depending on their physical location.
Cybersecurity Risks of a Hybrid Workforce
The hybrid workforce introduces several cybersecurity risks that organizations must manage, including:
- Increased susceptibility to phishing attacks: Phishing attacks become a more significant threat. Cybercriminals can use social engineering tactics to trick employees into providing sensitive information, such as login credentials or financial information.
- Unauthorized access to company data: With employees accessing company data from their own devices and unsecured networks, there is a risk of unauthorized access to sensitive information. This can lead to data breaches, which can be costly and damaging to a company’s reputation.
- Vulnerability to malware and ransomware attacks: There is a higher risk of malware and ransomware attacks. Malware can be used to steal sensitive information, while ransomware can lock a company out of its own systems and demand payment to unlock them.
- Threat of insider attacks: Insider threats can be particularly damaging, as employees have access to sensitive information and may be able to cause significant harm to a company.
Key Cybersecurity Challenges
The hybrid model introduces several cybersecurity challenges that organizations must manage, including:
- Complexity of the hybrid model attack surface: The hybrid model is more complex than traditional in-office or remote working models, requiring organizations to manage both local and remote devices and networks. This complexity makes it more difficult to monitor and protect against cyber threats.
- Importance of protecting data and securing endpoints: With employees accessing company data from their own devices and unsecured networks, it is important to ensure that data is properly protected and endpoints are secured. This requires implementing strong access controls, encryption, and endpoint protection solutions.
- Balancing cybersecurity with productivity and employee privacy: While cybersecurity is important, it is also important to balance it with productivity and employee privacy. Organizations must find a way to protect their data and networks without impeding productivity or violating employee privacy—which is particularly challenging when work is being done from an employee-owned device across an unmanaged personal Wi-Fi network.
Adapting to the “New Normal”
The hybrid model seems to be here to stay, and organizations must adapt their cybersecurity strategies accordingly. The hybrid model offers real benefits, such as enabling organizations to hire the best talent regardless of their location, improving worker satisfaction and productivity, reducing real estate expenditures, and making the business more nimble and responsive to market realities. However, existing legacy tools and policies are not equipped to monitor and protect the complex attack surface that exists today. Simply putting band-aids on security issues is not a sustainable solution. Organizations need to take a new approach to security that is adapted for the “New Normal.”
With the right security strategies in place, organizations can adapt to the “New Normal” and manage these risks effectively. By understanding the unique cybersecurity challenges of the hybrid business model and taking a proactive approach to cybersecurity, organizations can enjoy the benefits of it without sacrificing security or productivity.