Security at the Heart of the ‘New Normal’ Workforce

The overnight transition to remote working arrangements caught many businesses off guard and propelled organizations into a new way of working that needs to be both seamless and secure.

Although many organizations had already made their transitions to cloud-first and remote-first strategies even before COVID-19, this is a process that requires significant time and investment. Businesses around the world are at different stages in their journey but what is clear is that cybersecurity needs to be at the heart of this transformation for businesses to operate effectively in this new post-pandemic world.

To better understand the challenges that organizations faced with this sudden transition and how they are adapting their cybersecurity approaches to better prepare for the hybrid workforce of the future, we went to those at the front line – surveying over 3,000 IT decision makers across 21 markets in the Americas, Asia Pacific and Europe from June to September this year in our newly launched report titled Future of Secure Remote Work. 

Here are some highlights from our report.

Transformation at pace 

As organizations prepare for whatever our next normal will bring, it is clear that a flexible and hybrid work environment is here to stay. Remote working reached unprecedented levels at the start of the COVID-19 in March, where two-thirds (62%) of organizations globally had more than half of their workforce working remotely, compared to only 19% before the pandemic.

However, our research reveals that at the pandemic’s outset less than half had sufficient cybersecurity in place to support this sudden shift. 53% were only somewhat prepared and a further 6% said they were not prepared at all to make the accelerated transition to a remote work environment.

We know that bad actors are always looking for opportunities to take advantage of human vulnerabilities, so it comes as no surprise to find that globally, companies are seeing a big increase in cyber threats or alerts amid the shift to mass remote working. In fact, 61% of organizations globally have experienced a jump of 25% or more in cyber threats and alerts since the start of COVID-19. Eight percent of businesses globally did not know whether they have experienced an increase or decrease in cyber threats.

Protecting an increasing number of endpoints

Employees are connecting to corporate resources with more personal, unmanaged devices, creating a blind spot for security teams. One in two respondents stated that office laptops/desktops (56%) and personal devices (54%) are a challenge to protect in a remote environment. This was followed by customer information and cloud applications both at 46%.

Secure access – or the ability to securely enable access to the enterprise network and applications for any user, from any device, at any time – was cited as the biggest cybersecurity challenge faced by nearly two thirds (62%) of global organizations when supporting remote workers. Other cybersecurity concerns raised by organizations globally include data privacy (55%), which has implications for the overall security posture.

The rush to solve these cybersecurity issues has led to IT departments working around the clock. However, with this new set of challenges has also come an opportunity for transformation. The vast majority of IT leaders (85%) say cybersecurity is now extremely important or more important than before COVID-19 at their organization, with two thirds saying this will result in an increase in cybersecurity investments.

Preparing for the future of secure remote work

With over a third of organizations globally expecting more than half of their workforces to continue working remotely beyond the pandemic, cybersecurity approaches must adapt and change for good to support a secure future for hybrid and flexible workplaces.

Below are our key recommendations for IT leaders:

#1 The future of work is dynamic: cybersecurity must meet the need of a distributed workforce.

Policies and controls that once resided in headquarters must now follow the worker wherever and whenever they choose to require access.

Businesses must create a flexible, safe, and secure hybrid work environment with employees moving on and off the network with similar levels of protection. As business and IT leaders deliver significant changes to their technology and business priorities, cybersecurity should be the bridge that enables organizations to reach their full potential.

#2 The success of a flexible hybrid workforce hinges upon preparation, collaboration and empowerment

Network and security teams need to provide seamless and secure access to applications and services, anywhere and anytime. Security, networking and collaboration can no longer be seen in silos, they must work hand in hand.

Leaders must put in place additional enforcement protocols and enhanced cybersecurity policies. Solid employee education programs around cybersecurity are critical to build a healthy security culture.

#3 Simpler and more effective cybersecurity is critical to building business resilience

Security cannot be an afterthought – it should be the foundation behind the success of any digitalization effort. To reduce the likelihood and impact of a cybersecurity breach, organizations need to look for ways to reduce the complexity of their cybersecurity measures.

The future of work has arrived, and it may not be exactly as we imagined it. We welcome you to download Cisco’s Future of Secure Remote Work Report today and learn how cybersecurity can help to build resilient enterprises.