As the world begins planning for how we might gradually reopen economies and emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, it's clear we won't return to the normal that we once knew. Rather, it will be a new (or at least modified) normal. The impacts of COVID-19 will be long-lasting, changing business and society well into the future.
CISOs have been focused on the immediate threats, such as protecting their employees from falling for COVID-19-themed phishing campaigns and malware. However, CISOs must also think about how this pandemic will affect their organization's operations, workforce models, and security strategies over the long term. Here are three ways the pandemic will affect the cybersecurity industry and what our "new normal" might look like.
1. Highly leveraged, remote workforces will be much more common, changing the threat landscape. As regions enacted shelter-in-place orders, businesses scrambled to figure out how to quickly enable a wide-scale remote workforce. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 7% of the American workforce had the option to regularly work from home before the COVID-19 pandemic. CISOs' immediate challenges centered on capacity and utilization — making sure they have enough VPN capacity and licenses for the videoconferencing and collaboration tools their staff would need. Businesses quickly ramped up the use of cloud services, only to discover at times they were not secure.
After getting a handle on the initial technologies needed to enable a remote workforce, CISOs face a new threat landscape. The virtual borders they created around their organization using firewalls and VPNs have dissolved. Employees working from home are potentially connecting to the company network using unsecured Wi-Fi networks and devices that might be compromised with malware. Their home Internet of Things devices, from security cameras to smart speakers, all become potential attack vectors. At the same time, cybercriminals know that stressed employees who are hungry for news, supplies, and answers are more susceptible to phishing links and scams, and they've increased their attacks.
CISOs must make end-user awareness and security training a priority now and moving forward. Security policies should be refreshed and employees should be reminded of security best practices — everything from not clicking on links they're unsure of to not using services like Google Drive or Box if they're not tied to a company plan. Now is the time to tighten controls on email and web gateways and configure them to be more sensitive to anything that looks suspicious or leverages the COVID-19 topic. CISOs should also look to set up a type of virtual "war room" for their security teams to collaborate in to deal with security threats in real time.
2. CISOs will change the skills they look for when hiring. Post-pandemic, cybersecurity hiring will remain steady, but the skill sets and level of experience that CISOs look for will change. That's because the rapid move to wide-scale remote working has made security managers' jobs more challenging. Many of the traditional tools and controls they used in the past have changed. For example, until now, if a potential threat were on an endpoint, most companies would send an IT admin to retrieve the employee's laptop and image it. With everyone working remotely, that's not possible.
CISOs will need individuals on their teams with higher-level skills and more experience — people who can think on their-feet. Experience in remote forensics will be in high demand. In the past, hiring was strong across all levels, but I think we'll see less demand for entry-level workers as CISOs pivot toward hiring more mid- to high-level workers who can make wise, rapid decisions. I call these employees "force multipliers" because they have a wide range of skills and can maximize the CISO's return on investment. CISOs should evaluate their security teams' skills and identify where they have gaps, then ask if it makes sense to hire, train, and retain an employee for that role or if they should choose a partner that can augment their in-house team.
3. "Failing out" will be essential. In planning for disaster recovery, companies can choose a model to fail out or fail in. If a disaster or power loss happens, an organization that has disparate locations may consolidate to one location or move employees from the affected location to another. Those are examples of failing in. The opposite approach is to fail out or disperse everyone to work from separate locations, such as their homes. As we're seeing during this pandemic, having a business continuity plan in place to fail out enables organizations to be more adaptive. They can potentially have operations running again within minutes or hours.
CISOs should have fail-out continuity plans in place so when there is an indication of a disaster, they can quickly transition to keeping a bare-bones staff on location and having everyone else work from home. To be effective in this scenario, an organization must have the right cloud-based services already in place and a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). A VDI is important because it will help ease congestion on the organization's dispersed grid. Many peoples' PCs and home Internet connections are already strained under the increased demand for videoconferencing. Security professionals working from home may need to conduct real-time security information management or be uploading and downloading massive data packets. A VDI will be critical for enabling security teams to operate remotely in the future.
Some are calling the dispersed workforce created by COVID-19 the "new normal" in the way business will be conducted moving forward. That's hard to confirm, but it's clear that technology has played a vital role throughout the crisis by keeping operations running. On the flip side, the attack surface has widened, giving cybercriminals additional means to compromise environments through home networks, applications, and service connections. By incorporating the right strategies and having the right skill sets in place, CISOs can reduce added pressure they face to maintain business continuity no matter how COVID-19 plays out.
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