The past year has been incredibly challenging for cybersecurity professionals. As the COVID-19 pandemic rolled across the globe, a wave of cybersecurity threats quickly followed as everyone from individual hackers to organized cybercrime rings and nation-states ramped up their attacks.
We were all happy to proclaim good riddance to 2020, but the fallout from the shift to remote work remains. During private conversations, many of my industry friends and peers have expressed distress and uneasiness over the crisis. They are all well-versed in what can happen when the attack surface suddenly expands, and professional criminal groups sense weakness and opportunity.
Indeed, ransomware has increased sevenfold during the pandemic, phishing has risen 350% and hackers have made headlines with targeted attacks on vaccine makers, critical infrastructure, government agencies, and other important industries throughout the public and private sectors. The list goes on. At the same time that cybersecurity analysts are dealing with this onslaught of threats, they are doubly challenged by the fact that they themselves are suddenly working from home, without many of the benefits they would normally enjoy when working in a physical security operations center (SOC).
Security operations (SecOps) is a highly collaborative function where teams are on the front lines of threat detection and response. Cybersecurity analysts often work together in a state-of-the-art SOC, triaging alerts, hunting for threats, investigating incidents, and determining the proper response. They rely as much on each other's insights and expertise as they do the sophisticated technologies deployed in their SOCs.
Yet when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, SecOps professionals found themselves needing to quickly secure a newly remote workforce at the same time that they themselves were unexpectedly forced into remote work. It was a kick in the teeth, and the impact has been felt by SOC teams across the world.
The Challenges of Working From Home
Our survey of nearly 400 SecOps professionals recently revealed that it is indeed more difficult to respond to alerts and investigate threats in a work-from-home environment. More than half (51%) said investigating suspicious activities is more challenging in a remote environment, 49% said collaborating with their peers is more difficult, and 39% said problem solving and alert handling is more challenging from home. At the same time, 42% reported that their alert volume is higher than it was pre-pandemic and 57% said phishing attempts have increased.
Despite the challenges of performing SecOps from home and the increased threats facing organizations, many security analysts reported that their organizations' overall cybersecurity posture remained strong. Just under three-quarters (74%) said their cybersecurity posture is equal to or stronger than it was before the pandemic. This may be due to organizations investing more in security automation technologies and increasing their reliance on managed security service providers (MSSPs) as a way to support their SecOps as they work from home. More than three-fourths (76%) of respondents said they have taken action to increase SecOps automation as a result of the pandemic or planned to in the near future, and 52% said their use of an MSSP has increased.
The effects of the pandemic on the global workforce will be long-lasting, even after the immediate health threat is over. Many organizations will now allow employees to work remotely indefinitely. This means that the future of SecOps will also be different moving forward.
Centralized, physical SOCs may become a thing of the past as organizations better equip their SecOps teams with the technologies and tools they need to detect, investigate, and remediate threats from the comfort of their homes. To ease the transition, teams will require the ability to respond quickly to new threats and ensure that communication, knowledge capture, and camaraderie so inherent to the SOC can still thrive in a remote world. The good news? In a remote world, organizations may be well equipped to answer these new demands thanks to their ability to expand the geographies from which they can draw talent — in the process, helping to condense the notorious cybersecurity skills gap.
Ultimately, the future of SecOps will look different when teams are primarily working from home rather than in a centralized SOC. However, the security best practices that organizations should follow largely remain the same. Moreover, by adopting technologies like automation and leveraging the help of trusted partners to address capability gaps and form hybrid approaches, organizations can ensure that their cybersecurity posture remains strong even in the face of increased threats and unique challenges related to our new dynamic.