Although advances in communications and cloud computing technology have been pushing organizations to embrace the benefits of a remote workforce for many years, the pressures of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic have forced many of them into rapidly implementing these policies. Unfortunately, not every company’s security policies are ready for this shift and fail to take into account some of the unique security considerations of working remotely.
10 Strategies for Securing Your Remote Workforce
As public health pressures continue to drive the remote working trend, here are a few key strategies organizations should consider implementing to keep their essential data and applications secure.
1. Set Up a VPN
While most enterprise networks feature an array of cybersecurity features that help to protect essential data and applications from unauthorized access, they’re typically designed to be accessed from an on-site location. Employees log into the system from devices that are provided by the company, which ensures the device has all of the appropriate configurations and up-to-date software. Furthermore, connections to servers are made within a secure environment, usually through secure routers that are within the network’s firewall perimeter.
But when employees access the network from home, a new range of variables can potentially compromise security. They could, for example, be using a personal device over an unsecured WiFi connection. Any one of these variables could pose a potential security risk, usually in the form of malware infection or a targeted cyberattack of some kind. That’s why many organizations set up a virtual private network (VPN) for employees looking to access their systems remotely.
A VPN works by extending enterprise network security features into a public internet connection, effectively creating a secure tunnel that people can use to access the network securely. Relatively easy to implement and manage, VPNs may no longer be at the cutting edge of remote network security, but they should be considered a baseline requirement for any organization that’s working remotely.
2. Implement Zero-Trust Network Access
While VPNs have long been used to secure the remote workplace, they have some limitations because they still expose the network to the public internet. That’s why many organizations are turning to a more comprehensive solution known as zero-trust network access (ZTNA). Based upon zero-trust security philosophy, which operates on the assumption that anything and everything in a network could potentially be compromised and therefore needs to provide verification, ZTNA uses a third-party cloud provider as an intermediary to manage access to applications.
Unlike a VPN, which still allows people to connect to the network, ZTNA actually keeps remote users separated from the network. Instead, it provides access to applications that are appropriate for the user’s role through the cloud intermediary. This means that anyone logging in will only be able to use the applications and data that are deemed necessary according to their access credentials. Since they don’t actually log into the network environment itself, there is very little chance of malware or a cyberattacker using a compromised account to spread to different portions of the network.
3. Educate Remote Employees
Even the most comprehensive security policy is doomed to fail if people within the organization aren’t aware of the role they play in implementing it. This is especially true when it comes to a remote workforce. Since employees will be accessing systems and applications from personal devices over potentially unsecured internet connections, they need to be much more vigilant in taking steps to protect themselves from being compromised by prominent cyberthreats.
In addition to following the appropriate procedures for accessing secure systems, employees should also be aware of the latest malware threats and phishing scams being used by today’s cybercriminals. This is especially important in a time of crisis or uncertainty. For example, hackers have been capitalizing on coronavirus fears to spread false information and extort unsuspecting victims by posing as reputable government agencies or relief organizations. Keeping remote employees informed regarding these threats and providing them with clear guidelines to combat them will go a long way toward maintaining an organization’s network security.
4. Back-Up Essential Data and Systems
Having the right backups in place to ensure business continuity in the event of a disaster is more important than ever as organizations shift to using a remote workforce. That’s because the impact of any downtime event will likely be much greater since employees rely upon a variety of technologies to do their work. If key systems go down in a traditional office, there are often still ways for employees to communicate and collaborate to be productive while the network is restored. For remote employees, however, any downtime brings work to a screeching halt. Having essential systems backed up within a reliable data center infrastructure will often provide much more stability than an outdated, inefficient on-premises solution or a purely cloud-based solution.
With more people accessing network systems from remote locations, there’s also a greater risk of a cyberattack that targets endpoint vulnerabilities. Given the danger posed by ransomware and other harmful forms of malware, it’s reassuring to know essential systems are backed up to ensure data availability and business continuity in the event of a disaster.
5. Review Your Access Policies
Implementing a remote workplace policy isn’t just a good time to reassess cybersecurity posture. It’s also the ideal moment to reevaluate employee access policies. Just because people need to access network data and applications remotely doesn’t mean they need to have access to everything hosted in the network. This is especially true of organizations that have a hybrid IT environment set up that incorporates many different cloud computing services. Not every department needs to access off of these applications and their associated data. For instance, someone working in the marketing department probably never has any viable reason to access payroll systems or data, just as the sales department doesn’t need to access the applications used by the software development team.
By clearly establishing roles with specific access credentials, organizations can limit the risk of a single compromised account contributing to a broader data breaches. The same strict guidelines for access should also apply to physical infrastructure. Only a few essential employees should have access to hardware stored in a data center, for instance. Updating access lists and clearly defining roles for each user account not only eliminates confusion, but also minimizes the chance of mistakes and exposes the organization to as little risk as possible.
6. Implement DDoS Mitigation
The transition to a remote workforce has created a tremendous opportunity for hackers to launch attacks upon vulnerable organizations. Distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks work by hammering servers with so many simultaneous access requests that they ultimately crash under the processing strain. With so many employees working remotely, many networks are already being pushed to their limits. In the first half of 2020 alone, there were 4.83 million DDoS attacks, which represents a 15 percent increase from 2019.
By putting DDoS mitigation measures in place to protect their networks, organizations can avoid the risk of having their essential systems go down when they need them most. Downtime events that impact data availability can be devastating, impacting revenue and productivity while causing companies to miss out on vital opportunities. A strong DDoS mitigation solution like vXchnge’s vXdefend, which leverages blended connectivity to ensure that harmful traffic is routed away from the data center, can provide substantial protection against the threat of downtime and the potential of data breaches.
7. Assess Employee Devices
When employees are working from home, the lines between personal and professional activities can become very blurred. Someone may begin logging into the office network using their personal tablet rather than a secure, IT-issued laptop. They may also decide to use a work device to handle some personal business, such as browsing the internet or logging into other accounts. This lax approach to device security can leave networks open to a number of risks.
Organizations are familiar with bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies that stipulate what personal devices they can use in the workplace, but they often don’t think about the reverse. Now, more than ever, they must craft specific policies that establish what devices can be used for work purposes while working remotely. They can begin by assessing potential risks and setting down guidelines that strike a balance between the needs of employees and the security requirements of the IT department.
8. Invest in an MSSP
Cybersecurity is a complex and rapidly evolving field. Sometimes organizations simply don’t have enough expertise or manpower to implement the proper risk mitigation strategies necessary to support a remote workforce. Transitioning to a remote environment exposes a network to new challenges, and the IT department may be spending so much time delivering high levels of system uptime and data availability that they don’t have the resources to adopt the latest cybersecurity protocols.
That’s where a managed security services provider (MSSP) be an invaluable ally. A good MSSP can provide software tools and security personnel to both launch and maintain a robust cybersecurity strategy. For many companies without a C-level leader when it comes to security policies, a virtual CISO can be just as effective. For colocation customers, their data center provider usually works with a number of trusted MSSPs, so finding the right one is often as easy as asking for guidance.
9. Diversify Your Network
When network infrastructure has a single point of failure, there is always a risk that a disaster situation could bring the whole company to a standstill. Rather than leaving themselves exposed to the risk of downtime, organizations should diversify their networks as much as possible through the use of disaster recovery services and hybrid IT infrastructure. Storing backup data and applications in a separate data center location, for example, or having access to redundant processing capabilities can ensure that networks are responsive and distributed enough to withstand multiple failures or breakdowns without sacrificing uptime reliability.
Data centers are particularly helpful here due to their extensive connectivity capabilities. In addition to linking to backup data center locations for full redundancy, they also provide direct cloud on-ramps that make it easier to build flexible hybrid IT environments that can easily shift workloads whenever a portion of the network goes down. This is especially critical in a remote workplace where there are so many more endpoints and potential vulnerability vectors.
10. “Do as you intend to go on”
Many of the organizations that transitioned to remote work in March of 2020 did not expect to still be working remotely in the final months of the year. The enduring pressures of COVID-19 have forced many of them to do just that and even more. Google and Facebook, for instance, will be working remotely until well into 2021, while companies like Twitter and Square have already announced that employees can work from home on a permanent basis. Organizations that made an enduring commitment to supporting remote office arrangements have had an easier time managing the ongoing crisis than those that scrambled to implement temporary solutions without an eye toward the future.
By transitioning their IT infrastructure into a colocation data center, companies can put themselves on a highly sustainable path. With extensive connectivity options, intelligent monitoring solutions (like vXchnge’s revolutionary insite platform), and remote hands support, colocation data centers can take the everyday burden of managing a growing technology stack off the hands of busy IT departments. Rather than worrying about who will tend to their on-premises data solution in the middle of a pandemic, colocation customers can instead monitor their assets within a secure, reliable third-party infrastructure without compromising efficiency, control, or capabilities.
As the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic continues to drive organizations to transition to a remote workforce, setting the right remote work policies in place will be essential for keeping sensitive data and applications secure. While many companies already have strong security protocols in place, it’s worth reviewing them in light of these changes to ensure that they take into account the unique challenges associated with a distributed workforce.