Managers fear cyber attacks as employees return to workplace

A significant majority of US and Canadian business managers believe their organisations are likely to experience a data breach in the next three years

More than three-quarters (77 per cent) of technology decision-makers across the United States and Canada believe their companies are likely to face a data breach within the next three years, according to survey results released today by global data and analytics company Adastra.

The online survey was conducted by Forum Research in December and saw survey respondents rank data security as the biggest issue of concern in 2023 as companies continue to bolster their cybersecurity preparedness — 68 per cent of managers surveyed say their companies have a cybersecurity division and a further 18 per cent report they are in the process of creating one. Only six per cent of respondents reported having no cybersecurity division.

“The increase in data breach incidents across North America is troubling and must be prioritised as employees continue to return in-person to their corporate offices,” says Kuljit Chahal, Practice Lead, Data Security at Adastra North America. “During the pandemic, many employees were hired virtually and, in combination with long absences from offices, introductions to and re-familiarization with security protocols will be critical.”

Awareness of data security best practices among employees is essential — according to the 2022 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report, 82 per cent of data breaches are caused by human error and companies of all sizes are at risk.

“In our role as data security experts, we have found that some companies, especially smaller ones, can be lulled into a false sense of security believing that perpetrators will not bother with them ­— this is absolutely not the case,” says Chahal. “The results of this survey should serve as a reminder that companies of all sizes must invest in data security protection, resources and education, particularly as we return to in-office activities.”

In 2021, Statistics Canada found that 41 per cent of data breaches occur in small and medium-sized companies with less than 250 employees, and Canadian businesses impacted by cyber breaches spent a collective US$600 million to recover. 

Adastra offers 10 data security enhancements to consider:

Insider threats

The unauthorised disclosure of data isn't always the result of malicious actors. Often, data is accidentally overshared or lost by employees. Keep your employees informed with cyber security education. Employees who go through regular phishing tests may be less likely to engage with malicious actors over email or text messaging.

Know your inventory

An inventory of software, hardware and data assets is essential. Having control over the assets with access to your corporate environment starts with an inventory. Inventories can be a part of the overall vulnerability management program to keep all assets up to date, including operating systems and software. A data inventory or catalogue identifies sensitive data, which allows appropriate security controls like encryption, access restrictions and monitoring to be placed on the most important data.

Delete redundant data

Reducing your overall data footprint can be an effective way of reducing risk. Data that resides in multiple locations may not have equal protection in each environment. Understanding what data is required and what can be archived helps to keep control over data assets.

Early detection systems

Detecting anomalies and suspicious activities can resolve issues before they become a breach. Today's XDR (extended detection and response) and EDR (endpoint detection and response) systems include automated responses to common attacks. For example, suppose an employee downloads a malicious email attachment. In that case, the EDR system can prevent the execution of the malware hidden inside and alert security staff. These detection systems can be monitored by internal cyber security staff or monitored by third-party security companies who can alert management of incidents as they occur.

Data back-ups

Having a robust, immutable data backup plan can help an organisation quickly recover from an incident. The frequency of the data backup depends on the risk the organisation is willing to take. "Can we afford to lose a week's worth of data or a day's worth of data?"

Limiting staff access

Employing the least privilege principle reduces overall risk by only allowing access to data and services required to perform specific duties. Establishing processes for provisioning and deprovisioning user access with approvals, audit trails, reports, and regular attestations can limit what an attacker may be able to access in the event of compromised credentials. It's not uncommon for end users to have unrestricted administrative access to their endpoint laptops. This allows users to install unauthorised software or be more easily targeted for malware attacks.

Know your vulnerabilities

An outside assessment of your organisation’s security posture, based on established cyber security frameworks such as NIST or CIS, can provide a clearer picture of strengths and weaknesses and a roadmap to address your greatest vulnerabilities.

Establish two-factor authentication

Traditionally users are authenticated by one of three ways: What you know (password), what you have (card access or one-time passcode), and what you are (biometrics). Adding a second factor to the ubiquitous password authentication adds another layer of security for access.

Update to the latest security features

Most data breaches occur because a known vulnerability was exploited. Establishing a vulnerability management program that regularly scans software assets and applies patches is one of the most crucial security activities a company can perform.

Physical security

As employees return to the office, there will be employees who are coming back to the office for the first time. Reinforcing clean desk policies and reviewing physical access controls, including access to secure areas, may be required to ensure assets are not stolen or lost. Work-from-home employees who have company assets should be routinely educated on keeping those assets secure while at home as they would in the office.

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