Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a sweeping trend toward remote work that isn’t going away. As the pandemic drags on and continues to threaten public health, many businesses are grappling with providing some sort of hybrid work situation for their employees. And while there are many good things about the rapid adoption of remote and hybrid work solutions, security has, in some cases, taken a hit. In times of such rapid change for enterprises and society in general, cybersecurity must be a priority.

A new study from Palo Alto Networks points out COVID forced a tidal shift in how people work—and this happened nearly overnight. There was so much to worry about that businesses often simply didn’t have a choice but to make the leap into the unknown before they had a chance to address how security needed to adapt to keep up with the changes being made. According to the Palo Alto Networks study, 61% of organizations said they struggled to provide the necessary remote security for work-from-home capabilities. Also, during the transition to remote work, nearly half (48%) admitted to compromising security or increasing security risk through lax enforcement of security policies and/or “allowing employees more leeway than what was normally acceptable”.

Tight budgets, lack of time and resources, and the need to respond quickly to social distancing requirements were some of the key reasons organizations admitted to loosening security restrictions during the pandemic and the subsequent shift to remote work. Unfortunately, 53% of organizations that said they prioritized remote access over security are now exposed to security risks, the Palo Alto Networks study says.

However, more than a year into the pandemic, there’s no longer an excuse to put security in the back seat. Remote work isn’t a temporary emergency solution anymore. Palo Alto Network’s data suggests two out of three organizations surveyed have between 25% and 75% of their workforces working remotely. And for many, this is unlikely to change in the next year, with 44% of respondents saying they expect to have more than half of their employees still working remotely in a year’s time.

Another new report, this one from Entrust, suggests companies are responding to their employees’ preference for remote work, with 80% of leaders saying their businesses are either already using a remote or hybrid work model or are considering moving to a hybrid work model in the near future. However, security is a painpoint. Business leaders cite home internet security (21%), leakage of sensitive company data (20%), cyberattacks from bad actors (18%), and poor data protection methods as the top four security challenges.

Despite the initial rush to remote work and the fact that security was, in some cases, thrust aside during this transition, Entrust reports some positive trends in security practices thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. For instance, the study suggests the pandemic and the resulting surge in remote and hybrid work models has forced many organizations to offer employees training on data security. Of the 81% of leaders who said their companies now offer employee training on data security, 86% admitted COVID was the impetus behind this training. Tools like multi-factor authentication, VPN (virtual private network) protection, and passwordless tech are a few of the ways companies can put security first as they continue to accommodate the shift to hybrid and remote work models. A focus on security will be an important part of companies’ success during the transition to the future of work.

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