The latest research by cybersecurity experts at the global network of Acronis Cyber Protection Operations Centers (CPOCs) revealed that 80% of companies do not have an established password policy.

Between 15% and 20% of the passwords used in a business environment include the name of the company, making them easier to compromise. A recent high-profile breach illustrates this problem: Before its Orion compromise, SolarWinds was warned that one of its update servers had a publicly known password of ‘solarwinds123′.

Of the organsations that do have a password policy in place, the researchers found many rely on default passwords – and up to 50% of those are categorised as weak.

Acronis says attackers know these weak password practices are widespread and, with so many employees working from home as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, cybercriminals have targeted the less secure systems of these remote workers. Acronis analysts observed a dramatic increase in the number of brute force attacks during 2020 and found that password stuffing was the second most used cyberattack last year, just behind phishing.

While Data Privacy Day 2021, held on Thursday 28th January 2021, was an ideal opportunity to bring attention to the risks to data privacy, researchers at the Acronis CPOCs say they have identified additional cyberthreat trends that will challenge the cybersecurity industry this year. The full analysis is currently available in the recently released Acronis Cyberthreats Report.

“The sudden rush to remote work during the pandemic accelerated the adoption of cloud-based solutions,” explains Candid W├╝est, VP of Cyber Protection Research at Acronis. “In making that transition, however, many companies didn’t keep their cybersecurity and data protection requirements properly in focus. Now, those companies are realizing that ensuring data privacy is a crucial part of a holistic cyber protection strategy – one that incorporates cybersecurity and data protection – and they need to enact stronger safeguards for remote workers.”

Financial and reputational risks

While the business community is recognising that better cyber protection is needed to ensure the privacy of their data and their customers’ data, awareness among digital users continues to lag. One report found that 48% of employees admit they are less likely to follow safe data practices when working from home.

Poor password hygiene and lax cybersecurity habits of remote workers are among the reasons Acronis CPOC analysts expect the financial impact of data exfiltration will soar in 2021, as bad actors can more easily access and steal valuable company data.

The trend is similar to one now seen among ransomware attackers, who are stealing proprietary or embarrassing data and then threatening to publish it if the victim doesn’t pay. Last year, Acronis identified more than 1,000 companies around the world that experienced a data leak following a ransomware attack.

Implementing tighter authentication requirements

Acronis and other cybersecurity experts recommend the following best practices:

* Multifactor authentication (MFA), which requires users to complete two or more verification methods to access a company network, system, or VPN, should be the standard for all organisations. By combining passwords with an additional verification method, such as a fingerprint scan or randomised PIN from a mobile app, the organisation is still protected if an attacker guesses or breaks a user’s password.

* Zero trust model should be adopted to ensure data security and privacy. All users, whether they are working remotely or operating inside the corporate network, are required to authenticate themselves, prove their authorisation, and continuously validate their security to access and use company data and systems.

* User and entity behavior analytics, or UEBA, helps automate an organisation’s protection. By monitoring the normal activity of users with AI and statistical analysis, the system can recognise behavior that deviates from normal patterns – particularly those that indicate a breach has occurred and data theft is underway.