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The role of a system administrator (sysadmin) has undoubtedly changed since before the pandemic began. While many previously office-based professionals have been able to smoothly transit into full-time remote working, with many businesses able to continue operating as a result, sysadmins have been working tirelessly behind the scenes in order to facilitate this. In fact, a Netwrix study recently uncovered that 56% of sysadmins admitted to frequently working overtime hours since lockdown restrictions were first implemented. 

Sysadmins play a critical role in ensuring business continuity, however, it is unfortunately all too easy for sysadmins and their hard work to go unnoticed and underappreciated. While many companies are trying to come back to office, others are continuing to work remotely. In both cases, management and stakeholders must be aware of what they can do to better support their sysadmins during these complex times.   

CEO: provide adequate resources 

Along with managing remote networks, sysadmins were also fending off countless emerging and rapidly evolving cyber incidents. Cyberattacks are the biggest threat to overall network operations and, as stated by sysadmins, are the biggest concern they face. 

To ensure effective cybersecurity throughout the business, sysadmin teams need to be provided with the fundamental resources to successfully ward off attacks. This includes additional IT personnel, regular education and development training, and a sufficient budget to work with. Unfortunately, many sysadmins are lacking these resources and are even facing budget cuts to their departments. In the UK the number of businesses that now deploying security monitoring tools (35%, vs. 40% last year) or undertaking any form of user monitoring (32% vs. 38%) decreased. Failing to arm sysadmin teams with basic resources can put an entire corporation at risk of facing emerging cyber threats. In 2021 average data breach costs reached $4.24 million per incident, and this is the highest index in the 17-year history of this report.

CIO: remember that management is an ongoing process and not a destination

There is no one perfect way to fully support your sysadmins. CIOs have to balance time, money, and efforts their team spends on IT infrastructure support and multiple aspects of cyber security to reduce the probability of a breach. Here’s what can be done to ease these processes:

  • Train your users and IT team. Security awareness education allows to reduce the number of incidents. In the meantime continuous education for the IT security team allows them to stay on top of the new threats.
  • Know your assets and data. The ever-growing number of devices and amount of data makes it impossible to protect everything on the same level. You need to have a solid base for prioritising security efforts to pay more attention where it’s most needed.
  • Don’t over-invest in any single security function. Make sure that you have both prevention and detection controls in place. Relying on just one area of security often leads to blind spots in your security program. Consider using industry best practices such as NIST Cyber Security Framework of SANS Critical Security Controls as a starting point to plan for a balanced approach.
  • Have and test the incident response and disaster recovery plans. The number of ransomware attacks is record high and there’s no indication it would go down anytime soon. It will be too late to figure out how you’re going to communicate and who is responsible for what the incident happens. Make sure the key people in the organisation know their roles and plan ahead. 

These recommendations are not a magic pill, but they definitely support hard-working sysadmins and lessen the need for “fire drills.”

All employees: make a collective effort

Sysadmins need to tackle important day-to-day tasks throughout the entire organisation, which includes the need to keep up with ongoing problems and disruptions as a result of remote working. Basic security awareness lessens the workload they have to manage. Sysadmins commonly recommend several small changes that their colleagues and team members can make to assist them:

  • Learn basic computing skills such as resetting your own passwords.
  • Keep your antivirus up-to-date and use VPN when working on the corporate network.
  • Do not click on questionable emails, file attachments, or links to unfamiliar websites.
  • Avoid online shopping from corporate computers and other devices.

Though seemingly insignificant, these simple changes can make a world of difference in lightening the load for sysadmin teams. 

It is unlikely that the role of sysadmin teams will ever return to what it was before the pandemic. As stakeholders become accustomed to the new opportunities that come with hybrid and remote working, they should also consider what goes on behind the scenes to make that possible. By showing sysadmin teams the appreciation and support they deserve, we can help them get back to what they do best: securing the business and assisting its workforce.