Global Survey: The Cyber-security Reality of the COVID-19 Remote Workforce

For many organizations, the rapid transition to an entirely remote workforce due to shelter-in-place orders has brought on a slew of sudden and profound cybersecurity challenges. On one hand, organizations need to secure corporate-supplied devices as well as personal devices as employees log in to corporate networks from home. On the other hand, adversaries have exponentially increased their efforts to prey on the public’s fear and disinformation during these troubling times. As employees now operate from the confines of their homes, their exposure and awareness of cybersecurity threats aren’t nearly as acute as it once was in the confines of their seemingly secure office spaces.

One recent survey which has been taking a regular pulse of the tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) that both eCrime and nation-state adversaries are employing to defend themselves, revealed how prepared — or rather, unprepared — organizations are at securing their remote workforces during the COVID-19 pandemic. This global survey, known as “The Work Security Index”, was conducted by the research firm YouGov, which surveyed more than 4,000 senior decision-makers in the U.S., Australia, France, Germany, Great Britain, India, Japan, Netherlands, and Singapore.

The Current State of the Workforce Gives a False Sense of Security
Due to COVID-19, that survey revealed that a large majority of respondents around the globe are now working remotely with more than half of them as a direct result of the pandemic. This, in turn, has given rise to the use of personal devices, such as laptops and mobile devices for work purposes. 60% of respondents reported that they are using personal devices to complete work; with countries like Singapore and India even reaching 70% or higher in personal device usage for business.

This mix of access through both company and personal devices creates a range of cybersecurity challenges, from unpatched devices to insecure networks. 89% of respondents optimistically believe their devices are secure against advanced cybersecurity threats while working from home.

Compounding the problem, 53% of survey participants revealed that their company has not provided any additional cybersecurity training on the risks associated with remote work. This is especially problematic for small businesses, where 69% of respondents report having received no additional cybersecurity training.

Yet, ARMOUREYE data indicates that attacks are on the rise, and training is of the utmost importance. Adversaries are as relentless as ever, employing social engineering phishing techniques, targeting remote services, and deploying ransomware that preys on confusion and fears around COVID-19. It’s more important than ever for organizations to heighten their employees’ awareness of this new breeding ground for cybercrime activity.

Bringing the Suspension of Disbelief Back to Reality Half of the respondents believe that their businesses are no more likely to experience cybercrime in the wake of COVID-19. Unfortunately, we’re seeing the exact opposite.

ARMOUREYE has seen a hundredfold rise in COVID-19-themed malicious files from February to April 2020, and there is no sign of these attacks slowing down. Even more troubling, cybercriminals are using people’s uncertainties and shifted workplace environments to benefit financially, attacking victims by using stolen data, impersonating the World Health Organization, or using lures that align with health guidance, containment, and infection-rate news.

While organizations are trusting their employees to operate just as effectively remotely as they do in the office, they still must remain as vigilant as ever to maintain the security of their networks, devices, and data.

Key Factors in Securing a Remote Workforce
While having an entirely remote workforce is a new frontier for many organizations, it is important to plan for post COVID-19. As large-scale remote work will continue to be the norm, best practices for securing a remote workforce is vital as ever.

Your current cybersecurity policy should factor in remote work and give it the same degree of importance as in-office work environments. This includes planning for the use of personal devices, secure access for “bring your own device” (BYOD) on corporate networks and leveraging VPNs to protect sensitive data accessed through insecure Wi-Fi connections.

In addition, it is crucial to keep employees informed and educated about how to secure their at-home workspace. This starts with maintaining basic cybersecurity hygiene and continuing cybersecurity training as coronavirus-themed scams escalate and evolve. Also, organizations that have crisis management and incident response plans prepared and executable by a remote workforce are better equipped to weather the storm of future pandemics and other crises.

As businesses build out their cybersecurity policies, here are a few criteria to consider that can help ensure a successful implementation:

  • Make sure your endpoint detection and response (EDR) solution can detect attacks both on corporate and personal devices.
  • Utilize managed threat hunting to detect sophisticated adversaries and provide insights into the latest TTPs.
  • Leverage cloud technology to secure corporate, personal, and even mobile devices that contain corporate data.

In the wake of COVID-19, the world now faces a new reality of remote work, perhaps becoming the new normal for businesses of every size. However, by keeping the priorities listed above the top of mind, organizations can ensure that their transition to (and possibly back from) a remote workforce goes smoothly.
SHIELD GUARDMay 25, 2020

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