The shift to remote work may be a boon for many employees, but in some ways it has been a disaster for information-technology staff in charge of ensuring network security for businesses.

A survey of 3,000 global-enterprise IT participants by Palo Alto Networks found that 48 percent of organizations admitted that their security was compromised or that they increased their security risk after employees began working remotely because of the pandemic.

This occurred because of “lax enforcement of security policies and allowing employees more leeway than what was normally acceptable,” the report said.

Some staff working remotely didn’t exactly do IT any favors in their at-home work behavior, the survey revealed. Thirty-five percent of those polled said that employees either circumvented or purposely disabled the remote security measures implemented by the company.

By prioritizing remote access over security, businesses “are now exposed to significant security risks from unchecked acceptable use policy violations and unsanctioned application usage,” according to 58 percent of respondents.

“As hybrid work becomes the new normal, those who made minimal changes are now seeing the cracks in their network architecture,” the report said.

“The pandemic prompted an urgent move to remote work and introduced risk factors that play into remote security evasion,” it added. “These were not all necessarily new, but many of them were not properly understood or seen at scale prior to the pandemic.”

Lessons learned

Still, organizations appear ready to take the steps necessary to improve network security going forward as they plan to increase their investment in remote-access security over the next 12 months, the poll found.

More than half (54 percent) of those surveyed plan to invest more than $5 million on their remote security, an increase of 31 percent from the previous year.

In addition, 71 percent of respondents plan to move their security mostly or fully to the cloud in the next 24 months, according to the survey.

“This significant trend supports the hybrid mobile workforce evolution. When people are mobile, cloud-centric security technologies are essential to enable collaboration, regardless of where users are,” the study said.

At the same time, the report revealed that workforces appear to be content with working remotely, with 71 percent of organizations reporting an increase in employee satisfaction since shifting to remote work.

That’s spurring the majority of organizations to consider maintaining at least a hybrid-work option, it said. Only 15 percent of businesses polled plan to return to traditional in-office operations, and only 6 percent expect to return to full-time in-person work within the next year.

“The results of our survey show that organizations that are targeting a lower percentage of remote work are holding their own for now. On the other hand, those that aspire to expand their hybrid-workforce capabilities face some key challenges — namely high security evasion, ineffective remote collaboration tools and poor visibility across the entire corporate environment,” Palo Alto Networks said in the study.

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