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Are businesses prepared for the return-to-work security risks?

By Stephen Burke


As lockdowns eases, many businesses are preparing for employees to return to work. But are their corporate networks ready, with adequate security measures in place, to ensure their systems are protected from the increased risk of a cyberattack owing to staff and their equipment working from home?

Cyber criminals are well aware of employee environments and will target cyberattacks in areas that have become vulnerable. We saw this with the spike of phishing attacks themed around working from home and it will continue to evolve as workforces change their work practice once again.

When remote working descended upon the nation strong and fast earlier this year, some organizations were able to issue company standard devices with regularly patched antivirus security. However, for the majority, there was a frenzy to equip their staff with the required machines to enable a quick and adequate “working from home” set up. As we now raise our heads above the parapet, we are seeing an abundance of employee hardware lacking necessary security and about to connect to their company’s corporate network, risking sensitive data being exposed to a cyberattack. 

Computers used for remote working are likely to have confidential company data stored, have been shared with family members possibly visiting insecure websites or installing insecure software for example, with no guarantee that they have been patched and maintained over these recent months. The big question is: can these external devices be trusted back on to the corporate network? 

Businesses need carry our risk assessments and put best practices in place before their networks are exposed. First, staff need to share where company data has been saved and under which accounts, work, or private credentials. Was it a public cloud environment like Google Drive, OneDrive, or Dropbox? This all needs to be disclosed to minimize risk, ensure data is safe, and compliance with government laws is maintained. 

Secondly, if employees have been sharing the devices with their house members, have they given away their password? Is the password the same across work accounts and personal accounts? What new software has been installed or removed and by whom? Were there any security warnings such as viruses being detected by anti-virus software? Has any confidential paperwork been printed at home and has it been shredded or dropped in the bin? Where employees have access to sensitive information, questions need to be answered before they rejoin an organization’s network. 

If a company allows all machines back onto their corporate network, they will need to rely on network monitoring and most critically, they will need to monitor the activities of the people within the network. It is the people who pose the greatest business risk if they have not received ongoing support in terms of cybersecurity awareness training. They are operating from within a company’s network on a daily basis, sending and receiving data through a multitude of access points. If left untrained, employees are a hackers’ haven, an easy access point to the entire network, surpassing any technological measures in place to keep them out. If trained, employees are your greatest line of defense — your human firewall.         

Stephen Burke is CEO & founder of Cyber Risk Aware, a global firm offering real-time cybersecurity awareness training and enterprise risk and compliance reporting.

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