Lockdown, one year on, 25 March 2020, at 11:59pm, New Zealand moved to Alert Level 4, and the entire nation went into self-isolation. What great times they were. Yes, we’ll look back with great fondness.
Globally, governments (although not yours America!) set in motion plans to slow the spread of COVID-19. Overnight, non-essential businesses shut their doors and moved into the lounges and kitchens of their staff’s private residences to maintain some form of business continuity. One year on, the rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines and their deployment has begun but working from home is now part of daily life for many people. Working from home caught us all by surprise, and cyber- security for some businesses was often a secondary consideration at the time. The traditional security architecture, set up to ensure every device, network and endpoint inside corporate walls were secure, was no longer relevant. Instead, employees were spread across multiple locations and connected to different networks, massively expanding the attack surface for cyber-criminals. This shift has and continues to have, massive implications for IT and security teams. In essence, the pandemic killed the defensive perimeter of the corporate network and the legacy security strategies that organisations had maintained and relied upon for years. Here are some of the challenges laid out:
Working from home saw rise in the number of devices and endpoints, therefore increasing the attack surface for cyber-criminals to exploit. Many businesses weren’t in a position to provide all staff with corporate laptops, particularly at the start of the pandemic, and numerous people were forced to turn on their own personal devices for work purposes. This left businesses scrambling and making risky decisions on security they wouldn’t normally have done. This presents challenges of trying to deploy patches, anti-virus software or any other endpoint management measures to these devices.
The Internet of Things
The last few years has seen the proliferation of home IOT devices, and many of these have weak security. So, you’ve got an environment where the home is unprotected - you’re bringing your work equipment home - you’re working from home - and now you’re installing these vulnerable devices that can now be used to attack the work environment. Cyber-criminals have taken note – so in response, so they delivered us more malware to suit. Gee, thanks.
Many businesses have accelerated their cloud adoption. While this has helped improve productivity, it has raised additional security concerns. Moving to the cloud has highlighted many deficiencies in cloud security strategies, especially when it comes to protecting their critical financial and customer data which is no resident in these cloud systems. Many businesses, left with no choice, were forced into the cloud rather quickly, without the benefit of time to take a more in depth look and the security challenges and implications that this presented.
The Human Factor
In the remote working world, with people physically separated from other areas of their business, including IT teams, organisations are now far more reliant on the actions of individual employees to stay secure, and having to factor in their level of technical literacy, and awareness of the threats that exist. And unsurprisingly, this increased reliance on employees has been exploited by cyber-criminals, demonstrated particularly by the huge rise in social engineering attacks in the past year. Phishing attacks in particular have been viewed as an effective gateway into an organisation's systems by bad actors and has been a constant theme of the pandemic. In addition, numerous studies have shown that a high proportion of remote staff regularly engage in insecure behaviors such as device sharing, which puts their organisation at greater risk of attack.
Where to now?
While it appeared at first that the shift to remote working was only going to be a temporary measure, it continues to persist world-wide. For a lot of workers, remote working will become the new-normal beyond the pandemic. People are able to work effectively from home, this has been proven, and it is likely both staff and organisations will be far more open to this approach.
Security architecture will need to adjust with this, with a zero-trust model now seen as essential by security experts. Ensuring staff are more security conscious and aware of the basic cyber-security behavior is also important in this new-normal we find ourselves in. Organisations should be growing a culture of data security and data privacy. People need to understand that they are the caretakers of their own organisation’s valuable and sensitive data, including its financial and customer information.