Cyberattacks Up, But Companies (Mostly) Succeed in Securing Remote Workforce

Despite fears that the burgeoning population of remote workers would lead to breaches, companies have held their own, a survey of threat analysts finds.

4 Min Read

Since the onset of the pandemic, more than half of firms say they have detected at least a "moderate increase" in cyberattacks, while one in10 firms have encountered a drastic increase, according to a survey of more than 520 security professionals.  

Yet the increase in attacks has not led to an increase in breaches, with 16% of firms experiencing a breach in the past 12 months compared with 15% for the same period in 2019, according to a report by threat-hunting tools provider DomainTools. More than half of the surveyed companies (56%) stated they are prepared to support a fully remote workforce, with about a third tightening security policies and settings.

Overall, fears that the chaos of the coronavirus pandemic and the massive shift to remote work would lead to more frequent security incidents and breaches have failed to be realized, says Tim Helming, security evangelist at DomainTools.

"In general, organizations held their own pretty well," he says. "Obviously, COVID represented a dual problem for security shops — the shift to remote work encompasses all kinds of complexities — but on top of that, you had a bunch of attackers seizing on the moment and preying on the hunger for information on COVID."

Concerns over the spread of the novel coronavirus have resulted in most companies shifting employees to work from home. In June, more than three-quarters of companies had the majority of their employees working outside of the office, according to consultancy PwC. Looking toward the future, almost 90% of companies expect at least 30% or more of employees not to work from the office at least part of the time. 

The DomainTools survey gave companies a chance to rate their security programs. The share of respondents that gave their program an "A" declined to 24% in 2020, from 30% in 2019, while the number of "B" grades rose to 49% in 2020, from 45% in 2019.

"COVID-19 served as an inflection point for over a quarter of security teams to reassess their perceived cybersecurity posture," DomainTools stated in its report. "Twelve percent of respondents would have given their organization a lower grade prior to the pandemic, showing surprise in how well they were able to cope." 

Companies that had good training programs successfully transitioned to a secure workforce. About 60% of companies surveyed have a program for training IT staff in cybersecurity subjects, and of those respondents who gave their company's security efforts an A, 86% had a training program.

Almost half of security professionals (46%) — and three-quarters (74%) of professionals who rated their company's security an A — believe the training helped the organization respond to the security challenges posed by the pandemic. 

"Training and preparation paid off," Helming says. "We had this big Black Swan event that happened, and it put organizations to the test, and the ones that felt like they had successfully risen to the occasion are the ones who did training and preparation ahead of time." 

Looking to the future, about 62% of companies said they will not change their security budgets. Of the nearly one-quarter of companies that will increase their budgets, nearly half will focus on hiring more cybersecurity professionals and slightly less than half will focus on team training, the survey found. Adding new threat intelligence sources claimed a distant third position, with 36% of security professionals indicating that more budget would be spent on that capability.

Overall, companies saw more attacks but mainly common vectors, such as spear phishing, malware, and business e-mail compromise. More than a third of companies saw active or suspected cyberattacks every day, the survey found. 

"The number of attacks moderately increased, so if you hold that up against the increases in the number of breaches that were attempted, companies, in general, are doing a good job," Helming says. "To me, that was one of the bright spots."

About the Author(s)

Robert Lemos, Contributing Writer

Veteran technology journalist of more than 20 years. Former research engineer. Written for more than two dozen publications, including CNET, Dark Reading, MIT's Technology Review, Popular Science, and Wired News. Five awards for journalism, including Best Deadline Journalism (Online) in 2003 for coverage of the Blaster worm. Crunches numbers on various trends using Python and R. Recent reports include analyses of the shortage in cybersecurity workers and annual vulnerability trends.

Keep up with the latest cybersecurity threats, newly discovered vulnerabilities, data breach information, and emerging trends. Delivered daily or weekly right to your email inbox.

You May Also Like

More Insights