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COVID-19 has increased cyber and financial risks as security teams reduce staff

Exabeam has released new research that identified the initial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on security teams. The report suggests that there have been increases in both cyber and financial risks since the onset of the pandemic. During this time, 80 percent of companies saw ‘slightly to considerably more’ cyber attack attempts, breaking down to 88 percent in the US and 74 percent in the UK. 

In total, one-third of respondents experienced a successful cyberattack during the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to network downtime for 40 percent of UK companies and 38 percent of US companies.

The research, commissioned by Exabeam and conducted in the UK and the US by Censuswide, included more than 1,000 IT security professionals at small- to medium-sized enterprises, half in a chief information security officer (CISO) or security operations center (SOC) leadership role, and half in a security engineer/analyst or security architect position.

Of the total respondents, the majority reported that companies deferred all security hiring during March through June 2020, with significantly higher deferrals in the US (70 percent) versus the UK (42 percent). On top of hiring freezes, 75 percent of overall companies experienced security team furloughs, and 68 percent laid off team members. By region, 36 percent of UK and 29 percent of US companies reported that two security team members had been furloughed. Nearly 29 percent of US teams lost one to redundancy, and 33 percent of UK teams lost two.

Despite the team reductions, just 22 percent of the total respondents listed staff shortages as the biggest challenge in mitigating threats while working remotely. This issue was eclipsed by communication with security teams in the UK(33 percent), and communication with other IT functions in the US (40 percent). Strained interactions between IT and security teams is common but even more difficult to manage remotely. Combined with fewer hands during cyber attack investigation, this can impact overall mitigation efforts when remote. Network security issues were also prominent, with 29 percent of all respondents citing difficulty investigating attacks, and 27 percent naming lack of insight into individual networks as some of their major struggles.

In addition to these communication and technology challenges, successful cyber attacks on the small- to medium-sized enterprises surveyed resulted in the following financial impacts per incident:

  • Loss of business revenue – in the US, almost half of respondents (49 percent) lost at least $38K, while in the UK, 40 percent lost at least £30K. 
  • Negative impacts on brand reputation – about half of all companies saw an impact to their brand reputation.
  • Legal and mitigation costs  – in the UK, 33 percent spent at least £20K; in the US, 41 percent spent at least $38K.

 “Companies are grappling with the security fallout from an unexpected shift to remote work, but it’s business as usual for cyber criminals and foreign adversaries with unprecedented opportunity,” said Steve Moore, chief security strategist, Exabeam. “The rise in attempted cyber attacks while companies experience staff reductions is a harsh reminder of the security and financial challenges created by the pandemic. Automation of repetitive tasks can allow security teams to improve efficiency and accuracy in the remote environment, especially focusing on the credential, as well as detection and mitigation.”

Interestingly, since the beginning of COVID-19, about one-quarter of UK companies and one-third of US companies chose to increase automation usage in their security tools due to remote work, but oddly, one-quarter of UK companies also decreased use of automation during the same time period. Automation can be used to solve technology-related problems such as lack of insight into networks, a noted problem in this survey.

On average, 60 percent of respondents in both regions deferred planned investments in security technology, with the US (68 percent) result again higher than UK (51 percent) counterparts.

While both experienced significant psychological shifts due to remote work, overall, US companies reported greater impacts such as distractions in the home, learning curve with new applications and tools, and blurred lines between work and personal computers than UK companies. The specific area with the widest margin was individuals’ false sense of safety and/or privacy. 

More details.



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