The global shift to remote work has caused a level of network disruption in 86% of companies, a new study shows. Of the organizations surveyed, 41% said they experienced moderate disruptions to network security practices, 23% saw major disruptions, and 22% said disruptions were minimal.
These findings come from the Neustar International Security Council, which today published its latest bimonthly International Cyber Benchmarks index. For its March survey, researchers polled 303 professionals who hold senior IT and security positions within their organizations. Their goal was to learn the current state of cybersecurity across the United States and EMEA.
March brought a Cyber Benchmarks Index of 33.1, "maintaining the upward trend and a more significant spike than is typical," researchers wrote in their report. The January 2020 index was 29.8, November 2019 was 28.2, and September 2019 was 26.9. Results indicate an increasing upward trend and higher-than-average responses over the past 17 months.
The threat of attack across all vectors has increased across the board – some as much as 10% or more, says Michael Kaczmarek, vice president of product for Neustar's security business. Given the change in how companies need to do business now, such as an increase in remote work and lack of resources to support it, they said they view the threat of attack as much higher.
"We have noticed a shift in the cyberthreats companies are most concerned about," Kaczmarek points out. "More companies are focused on securing the tools that are needed to keep their workforce productive and conducting business." The shift is intended to protect people off the corporate network, which has become a priority as home networks often aren't as secure.
Data shows most companies were prepared for an incident like the coronavirus pandemic: Nearly three-quarters (71%) had a business plan in place to protect their networks in case of a major unplanned or extended event. Less than 30% were caught off-guard by COVID-19. Still, preparedness doesn't mean things will go smoothly, especially if organizations don't know exactly what they're in for. The pandemic has redefined how companies approach business continuity, Kaczmarek explains.
"Most business continuity plans addressed impacts by relocating critical workers to other facilities or failing over to other manned sites," he says. "Very few plans took into account the need for the entire workforce to work remotely." Now capacity plans are being rewritten on the fly, collaboration tools are being bought and tested live, and processes are being reworked.
The sudden and massive transition to remote work led to interruptions in network security business practices for most companies. A moderate disruption, which 41% of respondents said they experienced, could lead to productivity loss for a few reasons, Kaczmarek says. These include impacts to scheduled maintenances to push updates or features, lack of licenses or systems needed to access corporate resources, or delays in the installation of collaboration software.
Kaczmarek notes many businesses' resources were already stretch thin, and teams had to prioritize what was important when working with others in an office. Now those resources may have less visibility into business threats because not all the displays are available to them remotely, making it even more difficult to work together in a remote environment.
A major disruption, as experienced in 23% of organizations, could interrupt processes for the following reasons: impact to maintenance schedules to push critical updates, both internally and for customers; lead time for delivery of logical capacity and physical systems to meet business demands; failure of VPN services to support the minimum amount of people needed to continue operations during shelter-in-place; failure of a business continuity plan for mission-critical workers; and/or major outages of third-party providers to deliver essential tools.
VPN connectivity also brought challenges. Only 22% of corporate VPNs handled the shift to remote work "perfectly," with no issues at all, researchers found. More than 60% saw "minor connectivity issues" but said VPNs have fared well overall, 14% said results have been spotty, and only 3% said major VPN issues have occurred amid the transition to remote work.
Researchers asked about businesses' concern for different types of cybercrime and learned distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks are perceived as the greatest threat among 23% of respondents, followed by system compromise (22%), ransomware (18%), and threats to intellectual property (16%). Attitudes toward attack vectors have shifted as well. Social engineering emails are most likely to be seen as a growing threat, 61% of professionals said, followed by DDoS (59%), ransomware (58%), targeted hacking (58%), generalized phishing (56%), and IP address hacking (50%).
When asked about their ability to respond to threats, respondents said they focused most on improving their response to targeted hacking (54%). Slightly less (53%) have worked on addressing vendor or customer impersonation; the same amount improved ransomware response. DDoS, spear-phishing, and IP address hacking are other areas of improvement.
"Considering the change in how the world has to conduct work, knowing that your resources are depleted and there stands to be a potential inability to provide continued focus on critical services, this has opened the door for bad actors to look for areas of weakness by either targeting less protected infrastructure/services or conducting impersonation attacks in an attempt to gain an advantage," Kaczmarek says.
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