With more remote workers, CIOs now have a range of new challenges and higher levels of uncertainty than before, so here’s how to resolve those issues.
The Coronavirus crisis has brought a temporary change in working practices as a considerable proportion of businesses now have large numbers of employees working from home – and in some cases, the entire workforce has switched to remote working. For CIOs this means they are suddenly having to cope with a range of new risks, threats and challenges. When staff works mostly remotely, security controls shift considerably: defences such as firewalls, DNS security and intrusion prevention could suddenly be ineffective.
Most infrastructures that support virtual private networks (VPNs) should be able to protect remote workers, as long as you account for the extra bandwidth used and make sure the infrastructure can manage a high number of remote desktop sessions. But, to make the work-from-home scenario as secure as possible – avoiding risks of cyber attacks, data breaches or interruptions to the business – organisations should take a few precautionary steps. It’s time to review what you think you know about cyber security, and revisit basic but crucial security principles.
Review the devices used
One first important task is to carry out a device audit to fully understand what devices your employees are using to connect to the company network. Some organisations will already have issued correctly configured and managed work laptops for employees who work remotely. Others, however, were not as prepared. They now have to rely on employees using their own, personal devices and the security status of those devices will vary greatly.
You should therefore carefully review the security setup of every single computing asset that is now part of the extended network. This includes assessing whether all employees have access to adequately secured private WiFi networks, and whether only sanctioned and secured devices are connecting to the company’s VPNs. Review software patching practices across all the endpoints used, decide how to manage updates, and consider what security controls can be applied to employees’ personal assets.
As part of the endpoint audit, you should also ensure that employees are not using non-compliant systems to access software services in the cloud, or storing confidential information on insecure or unmanaged devices. Gathering data from key systems and applications can help you understand how employees are using these, so you can make data-driven decisions on how to balance security considerations with the usability of those services and evaluate the impact any restrictions could have on the workforce.
Track new threats as they emerge
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Coronavirus pandemic has prompted a number of new cyber threats to emerge. One example is an interactive map showing the global spread of the virus which was laced with malware. Similarly, we have seen other malicious Coronavirus related sites and phishing campaigns appearing, with hackers seeking access to personal computers or business devices within the same network.
Organisations should respond to this changing threat landscape by continuously monitoring for newly emerging threats and malware indicators. Near real-time threat intelligence is a valuable tool for identifying security risks, while an organisation’s already established security processes can be leveraged to deploy adequate defences to workstations and VPNs, fix security gaps in users’ personal devices and warn employees not to fall victim to new attack vectors.
Security training is, of course, of vital importance, especially while employees are working from home where they are perhaps exposed to different threats than in the office environment. In this situation, users must be even more acutely aware of potential cyber security risks and how to avert them. Crucially, every employee should understand their own responsibilities in preventing cyber attacks – including following good password hygiene at all times, not opening any suspicious links or attachments, and reporting malicious activity.
Encourage secure communication and collaboration
In the wake of the pandemic, the shift to working from home has not only changed our daily routines, it has also impacted how we communicate and collaborate. This could negatively affect team productivity and motivation. To support their workforce through the lockdown, businesses should therefore make it a priority to provide employees with the right tools so they can securely share information and work together on joint tasks and projects.
When selecting those collaboration tools, security is a key consideration along with scalability, as they will need to serve a large number of users. Have a contingency plan and make sure all employees know which resources are available to them: Otherwise, the risk is that users will find solutions themselves and connect on – possibly insecure – platforms of their own choice. Always keep all employees well informed on any new developments and remember that the most effective change management programmes are those that are transparent as they allow fast feedback and any problems to be solved quickly.