How to establish network security for your hybrid workplace

April 17, 2023  |  Theodoros Karasavvas

The content of this post is solely the responsibility of the author.  AT&T does not adopt or endorse any of the views, positions, or information provided by the author in this article. 

The global COVID-19 pandemic has left lasting effects on the workplace across all sectors. With so many people required to stay home, businesses in every field turned to remote work to open new possibilities for staying connected across distances. Now that the pandemic has largely subsided, many working environments have transitioned into a new hybrid workplace style. With this new approach to the office, employers and IT specialists have had to adapt to the increased risk of cybersecurity breaches within the company context. 

The first security measure businesses adopted during the pandemic was using VPNs that allowed employees to work remotely while still enjoying connectivity and security. Despite their popularity, however, VPN authentication can grant malicious third parties unrestricted network access and allow them to compromise an organization’s digital assets. 

To combat these vulnerabilities, organizations must consider establishing hybrid workplace network security. Investing in organizational cybersecurity means investing in the organization’s future; now, cybersecurity is as essential for the continuity and success of a business as the lock on its front door was once considered to be. 

This article will discuss types of network security breaches to watch out for. Then we will review practices you can adopt to establish hybrid workplace security and mitigate the risk of granting malicious third parties unrestricted network access.

Three types of hybrid network security breaches to watch out for

There are multiple potential gaps in every hybrid workplace network, including interpersonal communications, outdated software, and uninformed employees. Cybersecurity breaches at even a very small scale can grant hackers access to sensitive information, which could lead to the leakage of important data. 

This is a serious problem as, according to recent surveys, 45% of companies in the United States have been faced with data leakage in the past. With hybrid and remote workplaces becoming increasingly normal, workplace network security must become a priority. 

Here are three types of security breaches to watch out for. 

1. Phishing attacks

One type of cybersecurity attack is phishing. Phishing involves a hacker attempting to trick employees or co-workers into revealing sensitive information, granting access to protected files, or inadvertently downloading malicious software. 

Phishing is enacted by hackers who successfully adopt an employee’s personality, writing style, or company presence. According to recent statistics, 80% of breaches involve compromised identities, which can have a domino effect, leading to larger-scale company-wide cybersecurity breaches. 

2. Ransomware attacks

A second variety of cybersecurity breaches is ransomware. Ransomware is an attack where hackers encrypt files on a company’s network and demand payment to restore access. In other words, they gain private access to the workplace network and then essentially hold it hostage, demanding a “ransom” to prevent leaking any sensitive work data that might be stored there. 

Phishing can be used as an initial method of accessing a network so that hackers can then install ransomware. 

3. Man-in-the-Middle attacks

A third type of cybersecurity breach is a man-in-the-middle attack, where a hacker intercepts and alters communications between two parties to steal data or manipulate transactions. A man-in-the-middle attack can also be a type of phishing breach.  

Six practices to establish hybrid workplace security

The most effective overall approach to combating potential cyberattacks is establishing a comprehensive, multifaceted system of defenses. 

The combination of different approaches, such as widespread workplace cybersecurity education paired with awareness about making smart purchasing decisions, can shore up the defenses before an attack. Meanwhile, introducing specific preventive cybersecurity measures will guarantee a more robust cybersecurity structure across the workplace in case of a malicious incident.

 Here are six specific practices to establish hybrid workplace security. 

1. Choose trustworthy vendors

Part of running a business is working within a broader network of vendors, contractors, and clients. One way to establish cybersecurity from the outset is to carefully and thoroughly vet every business partner and vendor before working with them. Before signing a company-wide phone contract, for example, look for business phone services that come with features such as enhanced cyber protection and cyberattack insurance. 

When your business or employees request or send money online, they should use specific transfer sources as instructed. Employers should look for bank transfers that come with digital security encryption and protection against chargebacks to prevent breaches during the transaction. 

2. Adopt alternative remote access methods

Since breaches of company networks protected by VPNs are becoming increasingly common, seeking out alternative remote access methods is a good way to ensure the ongoing security of the workplace network. 

Software-defined perimeter, or SDP, uses a cloud-based approach so that each device can be easily synced across geographic barriers. A software-defined perimeter relies on identity authentication before connecting users and, as such, acts as a virtual barrier around every level of access. 

3. Introduce zero-trust network access (ZTNA)

Zero-trust network access means that every single request to access the company network, including all employee requests, must pass several layers of authentication before being granted. This way, all employees, both in-person and remote, will have to engage with the same advanced-level security protocols.  

Zero-trust network access also means that every device is analyzed and confirmed so hackers or bad actors attempting to impersonate an employee can be tracked and identified. 

4. Enact company-wide cybersecurity training programs

Create training documents that are easily accessible to both in-person and remote employees. 

Regular training on the latest cybersecurity protocols and procedures is an important way to maintain constant awareness of cybersecurity threats among your entire staff and establish clear and direct actions employees can take if they suspect they have been targeted by a bad actor. 

Since phishing is one of the top methods of cyberattacks in the workplace, the better informed that employees at every level of the company are, the more secure the workplace will be. 

5. Conduct regular cybersecurity tests

For hybrid companies, identifying potential vulnerabilities and weak spots in the cybersecurity system is key to preventing effective attacks.

Instruct the in-house IT team to conduct regular cybersecurity tests by launching false phishing campaigns and attempting to simulate other hacking strategies. If your hybrid business does not have an entire IT team, hire outside cybersecurity consultants to analyze the state of your company’s current cybersecurity defenses. 

IT experts should also be consulted to determine the best cybersecurity software for your business. All software and hardware should be updated regularly on every workplace device, and employees should be encouraged to update the software on their smartphones and other personal devices that might be used for work purposes. 

Since software updates contain the latest cybersecurity measures, they are essential to cyber risk management in the hybrid workplace. 

6. Install security software on all workplace devices 

In addition to the protection provided by personnel and alternative access networks, every workplace device should be equipped with adequate cybersecurity protective software. Installing a firewall on every workplace computer and tablet can protect the core of each hard drive from malware that may have been accidentally installed. 

A strong firewall can protect against any suspicious activity attempts within the company network. By providing a powerful firewall coupled with secure remote access methods, the entire workplace network should be secured from attempts at illicit access by cybercriminals with malicious intent. 

Data diodes are another viable method of securing the network; similar to software firewalls, data diodes work less like an identity barrier and more like a physical separator. While firewalls analyze and vet each incoming action request, data diodes function by separating distinct aspects of each electronic transaction or interaction. So even in case of a system failure, the main result would be a total lack of connectivity between parts, ensuring that cybercriminals would still be prevented from accessing company information. 

Final thoughts

Since a hybrid workplace encompasses both in-person and remote employees at the same time, hybrid companies face a unique set of challenges. Each cybersecurity policy must incorporate both types of employees, which can be difficult to enact across the board. 

To instill preventive measures that can thwart attempts at phishing, ransomware, malware, identity theft, and other malicious attacks, hybrid companies can boost their workplace training programs and install higher-level security software. These measures will help to prevent attacks and minimize damage in the case of a cybersecurity breach so that sensitive personal and company data will be protected no matter what. 

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