Mixed results from Palo Alto Networks survey on remote work in Canada

This study is the first of several that Palo Alto Networks will be rolling out which cover different areas with data compiled entirely from the Canadian market.

Ivan Orsanic, regional vice president and Canada country manager at Palo Alto Networks

A new survey of the Canadian market conducted on behalf of Palo Alto Networks has found that an overwhelming majority of Canadian IT decision-makers [86%] are concerned that the rapid adoption of a hybrid and remote work models during COVID have made it more difficult for organizations to protect themselves against cyberattacks. In addition, while the majority of Canadian businesses have invested in improving their security posture, about a third have fallen behind where they were in terms of protecting themselves.

This is a purely Canadian study, not a Canadian component of a broader global one.

“Several months ago we reached out to one of our partners, Angus Reid, because we believed that the cybersecurity data available in Canada tended to be US-centric,” said Ivan Orsanic, regional vice president and Canada country manager at Palo Alto Networks. “So we hired them to do a Canadian-centric study, one on remote access, which would cover 1000 organizations with between 100 and 1000 employees. The idea was that the results would help us provide thought leadership in that segment.”

Orsanic said that generally speaking, the survey results were about what they expected – with one exception.

“We are seeing the same trends across the US and the enterprise space,” he said. “This is this new norm, where remote work in the present and future has widened the attack surface. This will impact all organizations of any sizes – right down to the consumer. It means that people need to be proactive around their cyberstrategy. They need to understand the threat landscape and what’s at stake, and need to be equipped to protect the landscape across all vectors, to maximize security efficacy.”

That one exception to the general trend was that 33% of organizations have either paused or decreased their cybersecurity spending over the past 12 months.

“This would be the surprising data point,” Orsanic noted. “I think it’s the result of the survey covering between 100 and 1000 employees. It’s the smaller ones, particularly in the areas like hospitality  where revenue wasn’t coming in under COVID which account for this. Based on my conversations with very large organizations, we will see an increase YOY among them.”

Related numbers to this, which may reflect the same trend, is that 17% of Canadian business leaders  say they haven’t updated their cybersecurity technologies or policies to better secure hybrid and remote workers, with another 13% saying they weren’t sure.”

The survey also indicated that 69% plan to keep some element of remote around while 48% are looking at hybrid.

“While there was remote work before COVID, I think that these numbers are up a lot,” Orsanic said. “Remote work in the past was for people who travelled a lot. That has completely changed. Even when they open up the offices, for most it will never be mandatory.”

Orsanic noted that also based on his conversations with customers, it’s not clear whether Canadian workers are jubilant or surly about the prospect of returning to work most, if not all days. There is anecdotal evidence for both.

“It’s really too early to tell here,” he said. “In Canada, we are now just coming out of the pandemic. Many are very anxious to get back to the office. Others have been happy working from home. Time will tell but I think it’s around 50-50%.”

The survey also showed a significant gap in security awareness among workers compared to management. About half [49%] of workers said were not concerned about increased security risks.  38% of employees say their organizations are updating their systems with the latest patches, compared to 61% of leaders. 30% said they are regularly backing up their data compared to 59% of leaders, And 26% said they were updating their cybersecurity training compared to 54% of leaders.

Finally, Orsanic said to expect more Canadian data-centric studies like this one going forward.

“We will continue extending this thought leadership in Canada, in areas like  upmarket, public sector, and finserv,” he noted. “This is just the beginning of many surveys coming up.”