As the COVID-19 pandemic spread rapidly in the first half of 2020, many organizations were required to shift to telework practically overnight as teams around the globe were asked to stay home. Nearly two-thirds of the firms surveyed in Fortinet’s 2020 Remote Workforce Cybersecurity Report had to rapidly transition over half of their workforce to telework.
Most respondents said the rapid change presented a challenge to their organization, with 83% citing it as moderately, very, or extremely challenging. Only 3% were not at all challenged.
The report investigates the cybersecurity challenges that organizations faced as a result of the dramatic shift to telework early this year and the planned investments to secure remote work in 2020 and beyond. It is based on a survey conducted in June 2020 with participants who are employed in 17 different countries, representing nearly all industries and the public sector.
“The COVID-19 pandemic will have lasting effects on how organizations invest in cybersecurity,” said John Maddison, EVP of Products and CMO at Fortinet. “In fact, over 90% of enterprises plan to invest more to secure telework over the next two years.”
The evolving remote work environment, increased reliance on personal device usage, and the overall influx of workers outside the corporate network opened an opportunity for unprecedented cyber threat activity. From opportunistic phishers to scheming nation-state actors, cyber adversaries found multiple ways to exploit the global pandemic for their benefit at an enormous scale as evidenced by a recent FortiGuard Labs Global Threat Landscape Report.
Phishing and BEC
“Given a dramatically expanded digital attack surface, the waves of cyber threats targeting remote workers, and the ongoing cyber skills gap, organizations need to carefully consider what technologies and approaches are needed to secure their telework strategies long-term,” Maddison said.
Threats included phishing and business email compromise schemes, nation-state backed campaigns, and ransomware attacks. In fact, 60% of organizations revealed an increase in cybersecurity breach attempts during the transition to remote work, while 34% reported actual breaches in their networks.
With a spike in employees remotely connecting to the corporate network, an increase in breach attempts, and overall cyber-attacks, organizations cited the most challenging aspects of this transition as ensuring secure connections, business continuity, and access to business-critical applications.
At the time of the survey, enterprises had already invested in key technologies as a result of the pandemic. Nearly half of the organizations invested further in VPN and cloud security, while nearly 40% invested further in skilled IT professionals or network access control (NAC).
“They (businesses) have an opportunity to maximize their investments with cybersecurity platforms designed to provide comprehensive visibility and protection across the entire digital infrastructure, including networked, application, multi-cloud, and mobile environments,” said Maddison. This ongoing shift to remote work will also require more than just technology; cybersecurity training and awareness should also remain key priorities.”
Given the number of attempted breaches and overall waves of cyber threats targeting remote workers, organizations need to carefully consider what technologies and approaches are needed to secure telework moving forward. Defense strategies need to be adjusted to fully account for the extension of the network perimeter into the home.
As of June this year, a long-term shift to telework is anticipated, with nearly 30% of organizations expecting more than half of their employees to continue working remotely full time after the pandemic. Almost all organizations expect to invest more to secure telework long-term, with nearly 60% of enterprises spending more than $250,000 in secure telework investments in the next 24 months.
Moving forward, the majority of enterprises surveyed intend to make unplanned upgrades to their existing systems to secure telework. Many also plan to add new technologies not previously in place. Only 40% of organizations had a business continuity plan in place prior to the pandemic. Yet, as a result of the pandemic and the rapid shift to remote work, 32% invested further in this area.
While organizations have made improvements in securing their remote workforces since the beginning of the pandemic, survey data reveals several areas that could be considered opportunities for improving secure remote connectivity. These areas include:
- Multi-factor Authentication (MFA). The survey revealed that 65% of organizations had VPN solutions in place pre-pandemic, but only 37% of organizations had multi-factor authentication (MFA). While VPNs play an important role in ensuring secure connectivity, they are simply one part of securing access. Therefore, if not already in place, it is recommended that organizations consider integrating MFA into their remote security plans.
- Endpoint Security and Network Access Control (NAC). Seventy-six percent (76%) and 72% of organizations plan to either upgrade or adopt NAC or endpoint detection and response (EDR) solutions respectively. As employees work remotely, organizations face challenges to control the influx of non-trusted devices on their networks to enable remote work, creating new security challenges overnight. By adopting NAC solutions, IT teams get increased visibility and control over the users and devices on their network. EDR solutions deliver advanced, real-time threat protection for endpoints both pre- and post-infection.
- Software-defined Wide-area Networking (SD-WAN) for the Home. Sixty-four percent (64%) of organizations plan to either upgrade or adopt SD-WAN, but specifically for the home office. The critical advantage of extending secure SD-WAN functionality to individual teleworkers, especially super users, is that they can enjoy on-demand remote access as well as dynamically scalable performance regardless of their local network availability.
- Secure Access Service Edge (SASE). Seventeen percent (17%) of organizations made investments in SASE prior to the pandemic, and 16% invested in SASE as a result of the pandemic. Still, 58% plan to invest in SASE to some degree going forward. Although SASE is an emerging enterprise strategy, it is increasingly seen as an opportunity to combine network and security functions with WAN capabilities to support the dynamic, secure access needs of today’s organizations.
- Skilled Security Professionals. At the start of the pandemic, only 55% of organizations had enough skilled IT workers in place to support the shift to remote work. And while 73% of organizations stated their intention to invest further in skilled IT workers in the next 24 months, the historical lack of skilled IT security professionals could present a challenge.