Nearly half of businesses have encountered a cybersecurity scare as a result of the rapid shift to remote working, new research suggests.

A study of 1,000 businesses by IT security firm Barracuda Networks discovered that 46% had experienced at least one security incident since the start of the COVID-19 lockdown, with more than half (51%) recording an increase in the number of email phishing attacks.

SEE: Coronavirus: Critical IT policies and tools every business needs (TechRepublic Premium)

A further 49% said they anticipated a data breach or similar cybersecurity incident within the next month, with 51% of decision makers in the UK, US, France and Germany believing their workforce was not adequately educated in the security risks associated with working from home.

Despite this, half of respondents have allowed employees to use personal devices and email addresses to do work from home.

Fleming Shi, CTO of Barracuda Networks, said the increased cybersecurity risk was a result of a “a rushed, unsecure execution of a 100 per cent remote-working model,” forced upon businesses as a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic.

Shi suggested that this made many businesses a vulnerable target to opportunistic cyber criminals.

“Inevitably, the switch to a complete remote-working model in such a short space of time brings with it a myriad of security challenges, particularly with many employees using personal devices to exchange and share data,” Shi added.

“Naturally, opportunistic hackers are on the lookout to target vulnerable organisations, which may have weak security infrastructure in place during this difficult time. The risk when cybersecurity is de-prioritised or neglected by businesses, is that hackers can target untrained, susceptible remote workers with increasingly sophisticated and incredibly realistic-looking email phishing attacks.”

Unscrupulous hackers have been exploiting the coronavirus pandemic for their own ends, targeting people looking for information about COVID-19 and tricking others into downloading malware.

SEE: Cybercriminals timed attacks to spike during peak uncertainty about the coronavirus (TechRepublic)

As such, 46% of businesses surveyed by Barracuda said they weren’t confident that their web applications were completely secure. Despite this, two in five businesses said they had actually cut their cybersecurity budget as a cost-saving measure amid the pandemic. Even more worryingly, 50% of respondents suggested that they’d consider cutting staff if it meant they could keep cybersecurity properly funded.

The study indicates that the majority of businesses were not prepared for the shift to remote working: 55% of respondents said they would not have implemented remote working within the next five years had it not been for coronavirus.

However, it appears that businesses have realized some benefits in working from home: 56% percent of respondents said they planned to continue widespread remote working after the crisis is over. The pandemic also seems to have helped demonstrate the power of cloud computing, with 53% of those surveyed by Barracuda saying they had accelerated plans for moving their infrastructure to fully cloud-based models.