It’s been one of the most remarkable achievements of the pandemic: Companies and institutions have navigated social distancing protocols and remained productive. Platforms such as Zoom were available and viable just in time to allow us to continue to get our jobs done. Imagine if the pandemic occurred 20 years ago. We would have been without capable networking tools and file-sharing options. The world of commerce and academia truly would have ground to a halt. Commendably, technology departments figured out ways to allow executives to grant unprecedented flexibility to their employees. Suddenly, you could access your employer’s network in New York or Boston from the Airbnb farmhouse you were renting in Vermont. Or, if your meeting schedule allowed, you could focus your attention on your kids during the day and tend to work duties in the evening.
Remote Work And Cybercrime
However, if remote access to organization networks was a silver lining in the pandemic, it also revealed a lack of foresight in data security. There are certainly many benefits from the shift in workplace protocols, but when any technology is adopted as rapidly as we took to remote work, vulnerabilities and criminal elements looking to exploit them soon follow.
That’s exactly what happened in 2020 and 2021. Cybercriminals recognized that system networks lacked the security to safeguard against the cracks exposed by new remote workplace practices in three key areas.
First, when employees became active on networks outside of normal hours, cybercriminals saw an opportunity. In-person security monitors were not active, so cyberattacks were less likely to be detected. Second, with our hyper-connected habits, we accessed shared networks from multiple devices, including personal ones that lacked the level of security our work computers had. Indeed, a recent study found that 98% of remote workers used a personal device for work every day, making it unsurprising that 67% of business-impacting cyberattacks targeted remote workers.
Third, remote work also led to the outsourcing of some jobs to lower-cost jurisdictions. Networks became susceptible to vulnerabilities as contractors were given access to their databases, and cybercriminals were able to access larger networks through supply chains.
Despite the massive investment in security software, we’ve learned that networks are deeply underserved by those products. Start-up is when a device can be most at risk of an attack, as compromised firmware run at boot time can undermine any software defenses executed thereafter. Malware can be installed or malicious phishing schemes can be deployed to access user data.
One popular tactic of cyberthieves has been to penetrate a user’s login credentials and use those to more broadly access networks. After gaining access, they can move within a network to find sensitive data, such as financial accounts and customer information. That data can then be sold to identity thieves or held for ransom against the victimized enterprise.
What You Can Do
Here are three ways organizations can become more diligent about stopping cybercrime while maintaining the flexible work schedules their staff enjoy.
1. Safeguard your hardware. Hardware-based root-of-trust refers to the assurance that security exists at the hardware level that will make it exponentially harder for a data breach to occur. With hardware root-of-trust deployed, a device, and the software on it, becomes far more secure. Devices with legacy hardware do not have sufficient trust protocols built into them, but that’s changing fast. Soon, a stand-alone processor dedicated solely to security of the entire system, such as the trusted control/compute unit (TCU), will sit alongside central processing units (CPUs) on computer motherboards. Such chip-scale integration of cutting-edge security is what will drive the next generation of cybercrime prevention.
2. Install strict verification processes. Many businesses have begun to require two-factor (2FA) or multi-factor authentication (MFA) before allowing a user to access a network. An example of two-factor authentication is using a login password and a unique digital code texted to the user’s device on record. Multi-factor authentication adds another layer of security, such as a facial recognition scan.
3. Adopt artificial-intelligence-enhanced monitoring. AI is the future of many things, including data security. An AI-powered monitoring system will observe network anomalies and investigate them. Here is one example of how this could work: The AI software recognizes that a frequent user logs into the network at an unusual time; the software begins to track that user’s network activity for other out-of-the-ordinary moves; should the user attempt to access parts of the network with sensitive data, the software can prevent access and freeze the user’s login until an investigation finds if the user was authorized or not. That kind of preemptive measure is a key to fighting cybercrime.
As we move forward and hopefully persevere through the pandemic, we will realize that remote work isn’t going anywhere. Neither are cybercriminals. Although workers may be headed back to their office jobs, many of them will, no doubt, have flexible hours when needed. The era of cybercrime has moved into a new phase, and the best way for organizations to stay vigilant is to prioritize security like they’ve never done before.