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Arcserve 2021 Predictions: Protecting remote workers and critical infrastructure from cyberattacks will take priority

vmblog 2021 prediction series 

Industry executives and experts share their predictions for 2021.  Read them in this 13th annual VMblog.com series exclusive.

Protecting remote workers and critical infrastructure from cyberattacks will take priority

By Sam Roguine, backup, DR and ransomware prevention evangelist at Arcserve

It would be an understatement to say that 2020 has thrown cybersecurity and IT experts for a loop. Businesses had to deal with extreme changes to their work structure almost overnight when masses of employees started to work from home earlier this year due to the pandemic. In June, an estimated 42% of the US labor force was working from home full-time. The shift from working in an office to remote revealed many challenges - from poor security hygiene among employees to exposed network vulnerabilities.  

Despite these challenges, there has been no slowdown of cyberattacks; in fact, there were more intrusion attempts in the first half of 2020 than in all of 2019. Critical infrastructure like hospitals and healthcare systems, which have been vital during the Covid-19 pandemic, saw a surge of illegal activity and attacks that led the FBI to issue a warning to US hospitals of a credible threat from hackers.

We don't know what next year will bring, but there are several lessons we learned in 2020 that we know will come into play in 2021.

Organizations will be forced to protect new types and locations of data

Before March, working from home was seen to some as a luxury. Now, it's the standard for many workers, and it's not going away anytime soon. In fact, some companies are floating around the idea of never going back to the structure of a typical office. In this case, organizations will have to take a deep look at their data protection protocols and the measures in place to make sure they can properly safeguard employees working from home into the new year and beyond.

Companies continuing to have employees work from home will also need to invest in third-party backup solutions for different tools and applications. Take Microsoft Office 365, for example. More than one million businesses use Microsoft O365 for email communication, team collaboration, and document retention. However, the application does not automatically provide a built-in backup and recovery solution past 90 days, meaning it's up to businesses to be responsible for data protection. One recommendation for businesses continuing to work from home is to conduct an audit of existing IT tools that protect remote employees' data. This way, any data protection gaps become apparent, and can be properly filled with third-party solutions.

Cyberattacks affecting critical infrastructure will become the biggest threat to operations

While some industries are conductive to working from home, others simply cannot carry out the tasks of their jobs remotely. High-stakes industries such as manufacturing, travel, transportation, and healthcare rely on 24x7 operations. For these sectors, the shortest amount of downtime can lead to irreparable damage to revenue and productivity. Unfortunately, it doesn't matter to cybercriminals that these industries need to be continuously on - it actually puts a bigger target on their back, since they are more likely to pay a ransom to get operations back up and running again.

For always-available businesses, simple backup and recovery won't cut it. Instead, they need true business continuity where operations and critical systems never go down or face disruption. For critical infrastructures to avoid cyberattacks, they need to have the highest standard of protection. One way businesses can achieve this is by replicating data in real-time, rather than in intervals. Heartbeat technology can also be used to deliver automatic failover if a threat is detected.

At least one COVID vaccine distribution effort will be disrupted by a cyberattack

As we've seen, there have been rampant cyberattacks on healthcare providers and hospitals this year. We've also seen how important these organizations have been in battling on the front lines of COVID-19, and as scientists get closer to developing a vaccine, they'll be even more critical, and inevitably become a  high-value target for cybercrime. One reason is because the government has invested large amounts of funds into developing and manufacturing vaccines. One figure states the federal government has already allocated for more than $9 billion. Cybercriminals know if the government has the means to invest so much, they also have the funds to cough up a hefty ransom.

Secondly, working toward a COVID vaccine has been a group effort, with many pharmaceutical and biotech firms working to be the first to get their vaccines FDA approved. When a vaccine is eventually approved, the distribution process will also be a group effort. With so many companies involved, there's more possibility for a cyberattack. With all eyes (including those of cybercriminals) on a vaccine for 2021, its very likely that we'll see at least one COVID vaccine distribution effort disrupted by a cyberattack.

What's in store for 2021

This year has been a learning curve for businesses to adjust to the challenges that 2020 brought. Next year, there will be no excuses to not fully adapt. This means businesses will need to reevaluate their data protection strategies to make sure they are backing up and protecting remote employee data. Critical infrastructure industries will need to have rock-solid business continuity plans in anticipation of cyberattacks. And organizations on the front lines of developing and distributing a COVID vaccine will need to be wary of cybercriminals looking to disrupt their groundbreaking work.

While this year has brought difficulties, I believe that in 2021 businesses will have the opportunity to get ahead of cybersecurity and ransomware actors by strengthening their backup and business continuity plans.

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About the Author

Sam Roguine 

Sam Roguine is a Backup, DR, and Ransomware Prevention Evangelist at Arcserve. He has over 15 years of experience in business continuity and disaster recovery and has established himself as an expert on the topic. Prior to joining Arcserve, Sam was a product marketing director at Acronis. 

Published Tuesday, December 15, 2020 7:32 AM by David Marshall
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