As work from home becomes the new reality as the result of COVID-19, companies need to put in place long-term data protection strategies to ward off internal and external threats. With cyber threats increasing by the day, complacency in data security can hit an organization hard. Even before the pandemic, the trend toward working remotely from home put companies at risk from data breaches as employees used their own laptops and smartphones to conduct business. In addition, the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) movement – in which office-based employees bring their own laptop and utilize their personal smartphone for business purposes – poses the same risk.
The need for companies of every size to be proactive in protecting against internal threats is now essential. Here is what you need to know.
How COVID-19 has hurt online security
Before we talk about how to keep your data secure, let us try to understand how the COVID-19 virus hurt online security.
With both employees and students working and learning from home, enterprise virtual private network (VPN) servers have come to the fore to help organizations and institutions cope with the situation during the pandemic. The increased exposure has put these organizations and institutions at potential cyber risk. One of the ways it is playing out for work from home employees is the rise in corporate emails that they are receiving from COVID-19 websites offering fake cures, antibody testing, etc., in exchange for personal information. For example, the rise in spear-phishing email attacks related to COVID-19 has seen a phenomenal jump of 667% since the start of the pandemic.
To reduce or eliminate the threat of cybercrimes, companies are implementing big data security solutions like never before. It is this spurt in big data security solutions that is driving the growth in the market. The big data security market is likely to grow at a CAGR of 6.3% from 2020 to touch $28.02 billion in 2027, according to a research report titled Big Data Security Market published by Meticulous Research.
Working from home is causing internal threats
With companies giving their employees the equipment and resources to work from home, it is time now to address the cybersecurity issues strategically.
According to Heather Paunet, senior vice president of product management at security firm Untangle in her interview for technology career website Dice, “Businesses have made quick and steady strides to react to this pandemic. Now, it is time to find a rhythm and settle in for the long run. The time for reactive decision making has passed, and business leaders, as 2021 looms in the future, need to weave cybersecurity awareness, employee engagement, and long-term programs into their company culture and missions. While many are home focused on making the best of the situation, cyber criminals are ready to use this time to prey on employees and businesses alike.”
And one aspect to watch out for is the insider threat, of which many security experts have warned. The threat could be malicious or unintentional, posing a serious risk for businesses due to work from home.
Businesses need to understand that employee behavior is changing due to the pandemic and long hours that they have to put in from home. The combination of these two factors can result in cyber threats should strict protocols not be in place.
Also speaking with Dice, Steve Durbin, MD, Information Security Forum explains this in detail. “Employees subject to new working arrangements may well react maliciously due to limited hours, lowered compensation, reduced promotion opportunities, and even expectations of redundancy. These concerns at work can be compounded by increased levels of stress outside of the work environment due to worries about the health of their families, livelihood and uncertainty about the future. Under these conditions, employees might become resentful or disgruntled towards the organization, resulting in occurrences of information leakage and theft of intellectual property.”
It is crucial to understand that what used to work for you in the pre-work from home era might not work that effectively during the work from home culture. Your company’s network and infrastructure like email and web gateways, intrusion detection systems and firewalls might not function the way it used to in the pre-work from home environment.
Organizations need to use Identity and Access Management (IAM) and Privileged Access Management (PAM) tools to fight insider threats, says Joseph Carson, chief security scientist and advisory CISO, Thycotic. Organizations can also use these tools for auditing those who are using privileged access for some applications and systems.
Says Carson in his interview for Dice, “As employees have moved outside the company perimeter and firewall, the criticality of IAM combined with PAM, will help organizations maintain a full audit trail. Once an audit trail is difficult to hide an employee’s tracks, they will have less motive for abusing privileges as they are unable to get away with the crime. Sometimes accountability and auditability [are] enough to force an employee into not committing any criminal activity rather than detecting it.”
Keeping data secure from anywhere
When most of your workforce, some technical and others not so tech-savvy, is working from home, you need to be extra careful because attackers are waiting in the wings to exploit any given opportunity.
There are three primary concerns when your team is working from home:
- The computer they are using
- The network they connect to
- The security awareness of the user
Remote workers mostly do their job on personal laptops. Though the SaaS applications are generally secure, connections to internal resources need encryption over a VPN connection. However, the device is still at risk.
Keeping data secure from anywhere is the need of the hour for every organization, both big and small. Work from home model necessitates organizations to consider two main factors – access to data and access to facilities of hardware.
If you want your remote workers to work efficiently, you need to give them access to your company data. If your employees use SaaS platforms and applications to access your data, then it is not an issue. Since the data stays on the cloud, they can access it from their homes the way they do it from offices. However, if your company data stays on internal servers within your company network, then your users need a secure way to access those resources. To do it safely, your users need to use a VPN connection.
Let us now look at the hardware issue. When people work in offices, they usually use a company desktop or laptop that your IT team manages. If your user is using a company laptop or desktop, then you don’t need to worry about much because the company equipment has all the essential configuration and tools to meet the security protocols. However, in case your workers are connecting on their own devices, they are at greater risk. Why? The company authorities don’t have the visibility or control over the configuration and security of the device in question.
Lack of visibility is the most crucial factor to consider. It was almost overnight that IT teams had to change the network parameters and add VPN connections to provide access to the remote workers. They did not get the time to test whether the connections were secure or not. Therefore, it is vital to go through the log data and analyze it and take remedial action if there are any vulnerabilities.
You need to set the bottom line for your employees. You need to communicate effectively to your remote workers what security protocols they need to follow and why to avoid cyberthreats. Let them know the cybersecurity best practices so that they are aware of what they have to follow. Also, inform them about the potential threats that they should look for when accessing company data.
Make sure you get all the operating systems and applications patched and updated fully on all the computers, including the personal ones. Also, ensure that everyone uses a safe VPN connection to access company resources and data. Keep a strict vigil on user credentials and who all are accessing company assets and data. Further, make sure you have the tools and expertise to identify suspicious behavior and take remedial action swiftly to avert malicious activity.
Implementing blockchain technology can provide data encryption, which greatly enhances security.
To protect your proprietary data against all threats – both internal and external – you need a data encryption solution that keeps it safe and secure. As an industry leader in encrypted data security, eServe provides content security in the cloud, mobile access, security at rest and in motion, remote wipe and much more. Contact us to learn about our industry-leading solutions.