Industry Trends

Cybersecurity and the Remote Workforce: Key Insights

By Fortinet | August 19, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic forced business leaders to rapidly change the way their organizations and employees operated—particularly as local governments required or recommended employees work from home when and if possible. Under normal circumstances, businesses would make this shift over a long period of time to ensure that their IT infrastructure was prepared to handle such a change. Because of the nature of the pandemic, this shift to telework happened nearly overnight, creating sometimes new security challenges.

Gaining Insight into the State of Remote Workforce Cybersecurity

In the new 2020 Remote Workforce Cybersecurity Report, Fortinet explores the challenges organizations faced as a result of the shift in remote work and how organizations are planning to secure their remote workforce moving forward. This report, conducted in June 2020, surveyed security leaders across industries—including the public sector—in 17 different countries.

The Sudden Shift to Telework Was Challenging for Most Organizations

As expected, a rapid shift to a new work paradigm was not easy. Nearly two-thirds of businesses had to transition over half of their workforce to remote work practically overnight. Eighty-three percent of organizations found this transition moderately, very, or extremely challenging. They faced the most significant difficulties when it came to secure connectivity, followed by business continuity assurance and access to business-critical applications. 

These challenges are exacerbated by the unprecedented cyber threat activity that has resulted from an increased reliance on personal device usage and the influx of workers outside the corporate network. Cyber adversaries—from opportunistic phishers to nation-state actors—found numerous ways to exploit the global pandemic, as seen in a recent FortiGuard Labs Global Threat Landscape Report. In fact, 60% of organizations revealed an increase in cybersecurity breach attempts following the transition, while 34% reported actual breaches in their networks.

Enterprises Must Adapt to Secure Telework Long-Term

Given the security challenges above, and the fact that nearly 30% of organizations are expecting more than half of their employees to continue working remotely full-time after the pandemic, security leaders must carefully consider what technology and strategies are required to secure telework well into the future. To ensure the protection of corporate data and assets, organizations must adapt their cybersecurity policies to account for the extension of the network perimeter to the home.

40% of those surveyed spent more on skilled IT workers to support the additional reliance on IT staff to enable security and productivity for employees working from home. Only 40% of organizations had a business continuity plan in place prior to the pandemic. But as a result of the pandemic and the rapid shift to remote work, 32% invested further in this area. 

Almost all organizations expect to invest more to secure telework long-term, with nearly 60% of enterprises spending more than $250,000 in secure telework investments in the next 24 months. Moving forward, the majority of enterprises surveyed intend to make unplanned upgrades to their existing systems to secure telework. Many also plan to add new technologies not previously in place.

2020 Remote Workforce Cybersecurity Key Findings

Additional Investments May Be Needed to Secure Telework

While organizations have made improvements in securing their remote workforces since the beginning of the pandemic, survey data reveals several areas that could be considered opportunities for improving secure remote connectivity. These areas include:

  • Multi-factor Authentication (MFA) – The survey revealed that 65% of organizations had VPN solutions in place pre-pandemic, but only 37% of organizations had multi-factor authentication (MFA). While VPNs play an important role in ensuring secure connectivity, they are simply one part of securing access. Therefore, if not already in place, it is recommended that organizations consider integrating MFA into their remote security plans. 
  • Endpoint Security and Network Access Control (NAC) – 76% and 72% of organizations plan to either upgrade or adopt NAC or endpoint detection and response (EDR) solutions respectively. As employees work remotely, organizations face challenges to control the influx of non-trusted devices on their networks to enable remote work, creating new security challenges overnight. By adopting NAC solutions, IT teams get increased visibility and control over the users and devices on their network. EDR solutions deliver advanced, real-time threat protection for endpoints both pre- and post-infection. 
  • Software-defined Wide-area Networking (SD-WAN) for the Home – 64% of organizations plan to either upgrade or adopt SD-WAN, but specifically for the home office. The critical advantage of extending secure SD-WAN functionality to individual teleworkers, especially super users, is that they can enjoy on-demand remote access as well as dynamically scalable performance regardless of their local network availability. 
  • Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) – 17% of organizations made investments in SASE prior to the pandemic, and 16% invested in SASE as a result of the pandemic. Still, 58% plan to invest in SASE to some degree going forward. Although SASE is an emerging enterprise strategy, it is increasingly seen as an opportunity to combine network and security functions with WAN capabilities to support the dynamic, secure access needs of today’s organizations.
  • Skilled Security Professionals - At the start of the pandemic, only 55% of organizations had enough skilled IT workers in place to support the shift to remote work. And while 73% of organizations stated their intention to invest further in skilled IT workers in the next 24 months, the historical lack of skilled IT security professionals could present a challenge. 

Programs like the Fortinet NSE Training Institute's certification program help teach new skills to, upskill, or reskill security professionals in an effort to reduce the skills shortage. The recent surge in those registering for Fortinet’s training programs is an indicator of the need for trained security professionals. As a result of the transition to remote work, Fortinet made its online training courses free to help businesses combat cyber risks and protect against threats that exploit the COVID-19 pandemic.

Enabling Cybersecurity Across the Remote Workforce is an Ongoing Task

Now that organizations have made it through the initial shift to remote work, IT decision makers must plan for the additional investments required to secure telework long-term. There is an opportunity to maximize their investments with cybersecurity platforms designed to provide comprehensive visibility and protection across the entire digital infrastructure, including networked, application, multi-cloud, and mobile environments. 

Read additional valuable takeaways from this research and access the full report.

Read more about how Fortinet customers are maintaining business continuity at scale with integrated and secure Fortinet Teleworker solutions.

Large Metropolitan Healthcare System: A cybersecurity platform, which included Secure SD-WAN, next-generation firewall, and VPN solutions, enabled this large metropolitan healthcare system to rapidly deploy secure, reliable connectivity at remote COVID-19 testing sites while complying with HIPAA regulations. 

Precision Machining Company: Master Automatic has leveraged Fortinet Teleworker Solutions to maintain business continuity during times of rapid transition.