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Mitigating Cybersecurity Risks in a Hybrid-Work World | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #ransomware

The workforce is making a dramatic shift into a new hybrid model, where workers are allowed and even encouraged, to work partially from home but are also still required to spend time in the office. Recent studies forecast that up to 39% of global knowledge workers will adopt this hybrid working model by the end of 2023. This shift toward remote work, spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, has opened up new opportunities for cybercriminals to exploit vulnerabilities and compromise sensitive data. This means organizations will face a unique set of challenges that significantly impact their cybersecurity posture.

This article will explore three core elevated risks that an enterprise will face in this hybrid work environment, and provide a roadmap of recommendations to evaluate and strengthen an organization’s cybersecurity program.

Increased Risk One: Data Exposure – Loss of Confidentiality

The first elevated risk is related to data exposure. With employees working remotely and business processes realigned to support telework, security controls may degrade, leaving protected information susceptible to exposure. Organizations must identify and protect private or sensitive data, including (but not limited to) financial data, customer information, employee data and intellectual property. Either customer information or employee data may include personally identifiable information (PII) that will often require additional protections due to privacy requirements at the state, national or super-national level.

How cybersecurity experts can protect against data exposure risks:

● Implement robust data protection measures. Encrypt sensitive data, both in transit and at rest, to prevent unauthorized access in case of a data breach or data theft.
● Educate employees on data handling best practices. Conduct regular training with employees to raise awareness about data security, emphasizing the importance of proper data handling and the potential consequences of data exposure. Nearly 90% of system breaches will include a human failure.
● Strengthen remote access security: Implement multi-factor authentication and secure virtual private networks (VPNs) to ensure only authorized users can access sensitive data remotely, and to mitigate against man-in-the-middle attacks.

Increased Risk Two: System Degradation – Loss of System Integrity

Maintaining the integrity of system data and processes becomes a challenge in a hybrid work environment, where some hands-on administrative tasks may not be fully supported by telework scenarios. When data or systems degrade, decreased integrity or availability can lead to unpredictable processes and erroneous business decisions.

To prevent system degradation, cybersecurity professionals must:

● Draw security boundaries. A mechanism must be developed to group IT equipment in some logical manner to facilitate orderly security management, but don’t try to do it all in one bite.
● Prioritize critical systems. Categorize systems based on their importance to the organization and focus on mitigating threats to the most critical assets first. Remember, It is not the case that all data is equally valuable.
● Implement security controls. Based on the criticality of each system, an appropriate set of security controls must be chosen, implemented and validated – put the right locks on the right doors.
● Facilitate remote administration. Enable IT teams to troubleshoot and maintain systems remotely, ensuring the continued accuracy and functionality of business processes – for example, via secure VPN-based remote access solutions, but be sure it’s a remote work solution that does not stop working when things are going wrong.
● Perform regular code reviews and testing. Despite remote work challenges, maintain rigorous code review and DevOps testing practices to prevent the introduction of vulnerabilities and bugs into production environments. Assume use-case testing is only half the picture; remember to do misuse-case testing as well.

Increased Risk Three: Disruption of Service – Loss of System Availability

Organizations heavily rely on continuous uptime and reliable service availability to conduct business operations effectively. With employees working remotely, and especially if key personnel become unavailable due to illness or other reasons, the risk of service disruption increases significantly.

Cybersecurity professionals can leverage the below recommendations to offset the risk of a disruption of services:
● Strengthen IT helpdesk support. Ensure sufficient staffing for the IT helpdesk to promptly address remote access and technical issues, minimizing disruptions for employees.
● Monitor and maintain critical system resources. Continuously monitor security compliance and server resources to prevent potential crashes, and proactively identify performance issues that could affect service availability.
● Update security patches diligently. Stay vigilant about timely software updates and patches to prevent malicious actors from exploiting vulnerabilities.

Hybrid Workforce Overview

Overall, it is up to cybersecurity professionals to ensure that the new hybrid workforce doesn’t place the company at a higher risk for cyber attacks. As the workforce shifts, so do cybercriminal tactics, so it’s important to think ahead! Below is a summary roadmap that IT and cybersecurity professionals should consider following when evaluating their current cybersecurity program for the hybrid workforce:

1. Define System Boundaries. Draw clear boundaries for different IT systems to identify critical assets and potential vulnerabilities.
2. Assess Risk Exposure. Triage systems based on their importance to the organization and calculate annualized loss expectancy (ALE) to prioritize threat mitigation efforts effectively.
3. Implement Security Controls. Establish an appropriate set of security controls for all systems, considering cybersecurity standards such as NIST 800-171 or ISO 27001.
4. Conduct Third-Party Assessments. Consider engaging independent third-party assessors to evaluate your cybersecurity posture, validate security controls, and perform penetration tests on high-risk systems.
5. Stay Informed. Monitor cyberthreats and industry bulletins through online resources like SANS Internet Storm Center, DHS US-CERT, FireEye, and Mitre CVE. This will enable your organization to respond proactively to emerging threats.

As organizations adapt to the new hybrid work world, they must be proactive in identifying and mitigating cybersecurity risks. By evaluating threats to data exposure, system degradation and service disruption, and by implementing the recommended roadmap, organizations can safeguard their digital assets and maintain a robust cybersecurity posture in the face of modern workforce challenges. A comprehensive and adaptive cybersecurity program is essential to protect critical information, maintain business continuity, and ensure the trust of customers and partners in this rapidly evolving work environment.


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National Cyber Security