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In 2017, just 8 million Americans, or about 5.2% of the workforce, worked from home. However, American executives seemed intrigued by the idea of building a secure, satisfied, and low-cost team of kitchen-table workers, so remote workforces increased as time went on.
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in early 2020, corporations all over the world immediately implemented work-from-home programs, many of which had seemed impossible just weeks earlier.By June 2020, 42% of Americans were working from home full time, according to research from Stanford University.
In the scramble to shift from office to home, many IT departments hastily propped up internet security measures and relaxed cardinal policies about cybersafety.
Carla Sweeney, director of governance and risk compliance at Red Ventures, explained how even companies already operating with remote workforces were largely unprepared for those changes.
“Many were forced to accelerate an unplanned shift to remote working before they were ready, without the luxury of time to plan and test network changes that make that change possible," Sweeney said.
Makeshift security measures may have created new vulnerabilities, such as unsecured home WiFi networks, use of personal devices for sensitive information, and lax physical security of hardware. Because of these potential vulnerabilities, remote employees should do their best to follow general best practices for internet safety, including:
Pause and assess the situation before you click a link or attachment in an email.
If you must connect to a public network, use a virtual private network (VPN).
Create long and unique passwords for each account.
Avoid the temptation to let your family use your work laptop.
If possible, keep personal use to personal devices and work use to work devices.
Follow your company's policy regarding the storage and transmission of company information.
When you set up a video conference, use a unique password.
Change your home network name and make it invisible to others.
Change the default router administrator password to a strong passphrase.
Use multi-factor authentication wherever possible.
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Cybersecurity Threats for WFH
Working from home can expose companies and individual employees to cybercrime by creating new vulnerabilities in the safety structure.
"Employees are connecting to home or public networks of unknown security, in some cases with a personal laptop or mobile device to do their work," Sweeney said.
Hackers may exploit virtual private networks already infected with malware. Malicious apps promising the lowdown on the COVID crisis can tempt kitchen-table workers. And young family members completing virtual learning may think it's okay to open up a private chat on mom or dad's work laptop.
Consequently, cyberattacks have mushroomed since March, when much of the U.S. workforce shifted to remote work due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The World Health Organization alone experienced a 500% increase in cyberattacks early on during the pandemic, and other health-related agencies also saw a spike in cybercrime. Some reports say cyberattacks in general jumped by 34% between March and April, and phishing attacks in particular soared from 5,000 in February to 200,000 in late April.
“Attackers take advantage of heightened emotions and rely on the fact that people are anxious to learn more about breaking news, stimulus payment information, tax refunds, and even company announcements," Sweeney explained.
Emails parading as announcements from government agencies, misleading subject lines about COVID's impact on hard-hit industries, and malicious attachments claiming to provide tactics for avoiding the virus have all gotten employees to click.
Work from Home Internet Safety Best Practices
Just as any medical article will tell you to defer to your doctor's advice, when dealing with technology, always listen to your IT team. Whether a third party or an in-house department, your team features a variety of professionals, such as a chief information security officer, security manager, penetration tester, and information security analyst.
These specialists can help with network, access, email, videoconferencing, and password safety. For employees working from home, we also compiled a list of the top internet safety tips in each of these areas and shared it below.
Staying safe online means maximizing your personal security while minimizing risks to you and your employer's private information. Cybersecurity involves keeping people and property safe from cybercrime, which can include acts as diverse as unauthorized data access, cyber blackmail, or unwelcome sexual solicitation.
The Future of WFH and Cybersecurity
COVID caused a monumental surge in remote work, but will companies make the work-from-home shift permanent even post-COVID? Probably.
In a Salesforce/Tableau survey, 69% of respondents said they believed the pandemic would "permanently change the nature of work."
"With the pandemic situation constantly evolving, I think companies are having to adjust to the 'new normal' of work-from-home," she explained, "whether that means the full workforce working from home or allowing for more flexibility as we navigate remote schooling, COVID exposure, and quarantining."
This radical realignment of the digital workforce means companies are relying even more on well-trained cybersecurity professionals to keep their data, hardware, and employees safe.
"InfoSec teams will have to stay agile and align to company strategies as they respond to the pandemic, while monitoring ever-evolving threats that come with it (while dealing with election year threats to boot!)," Sweeney said.
As a result of these recent events, cybersecurity is morphing into an even more exciting field to study. Recent graduates and career-switchers can find an enticing new career helping to fight crime and tackle new technological challenges through cybersecurity.
Whether you choose to trailblaze a new career field or stick to your current trajectory, you can help keep everyone safe from cyber crime by practicing common-sense tactics, including:
- Pause and assess the situation before you click a link or attachment in an email.
- If you must connect to a public network, use your VPN.
- Create long and unique passwords for each account.
Meet the Expert
Location: Charlotte, NC
Director of Governance, Risk Compliance at Red Ventures
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