Security From Home: Protecting A Self-isolated Workforce

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The global coronavirus pandemic has proven to be the biggest test of how modern and flexible working practices are enabling employees to stay productive, working anytime, anywhere, on any device. Today’s enterprise mobility technologies enable employees to remotely connect to the data and resources they need, whenever they need them and on whatever devices they choose.

This is even more important in view of the current global events. And with governments around the world mandating social distancing on their citizens, including reducing social and professional gatherings, remote working has become an organisational business continuity measure rather than a debatable perk.

But despite these virtues, remote access to organisational data and systems, via various mobile devices across multiple networks, has a dark side that keeps chief information security officers (CISOs) awake at night. Accessing data outside the secure network perimeter opens up unprecedented “attack surfaces” for cyber criminals and creates a huge amount of additional vulnerability for organisations. 

With this in mind, what are the risks that CISOs and IT decision makers need to look out for when they deploy remote working practices, and how can they be mitigated?

Capacity issues

Capacity might sound like a simple consideration, but it is a tangible one too. Mobile workers use virtual private networks (VPNs) to access corporate servers, but VPNs put considerable strain on organisational resources, necessitating having enough licenses for secure remote access. 

Additionally, IT decision-makers need to consider how their secure access solutions would prioritise who gets priority bandwidth. One cause of low connectivity is when users try to upload or download large files that are non-business critical, as these files exhaust the bandwidth dedicated to the operation of critical corporate IT systems. 

During business continuity and disaster recovery planning, organisations should carefully consider capacity factors, including licensing and bandwidth availability so that they are prepared for any unexpected surge in demand. To securely allocate web traffic to cloud applications, IT decision-makers should consider using Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB) solutions to manage the demands, while maintaining security monitoring and security policies to ensure that users and applications are properly protected. Enterprises may also wish to leverage the security functions they already have available to them through the existing services that they already consume, such as Microsoft Azure, as some of these may help to quickly alleviate challenges.

Unsecured devices

Today’s frequency of mobile security software updates requires devices to be regularly patched to maintain enterprise-wide security. This is especially relevant in bring your own device (BYOD) scenarios, where native mobile device security software might not live up to organisational standards. Patches and updates address known security problems, which means that ignoring them opens new attack vectors for cyber criminals. 

IT decision-makers need to make sure proper patching processes are put in place to ensure devices are kept secure. This requires visibility of what is connecting to the network and a view into the state of health of those devices, including how recently they were last updated. Aligned to this, the process needs to have visibility of new updates coming from the hardware and software vendors to ensure these are applied as soon as they become available.

This is particularly important given that cyber attackers are trying to take advantage of the fragmented workforce. According to recent research, 42% of workers have received suspicious emails since they started working from home. Cyber criminals are opportunists and will take advantage of any chance they get to breach an organisation’s defence. Therefore, more than ever, security teams need to be on top of their game. 

The new normal

As a large proportion of the global workforce adapts to our new normal, cyber security needs to be front of mind. There are huge infrastructural challenges that organisations have had to tackle almost overnight. As the workforce settles into new work from home habits, cyber security teams are also dealing with new challenges.

There’s no doubt that enabling remote access to corporate resources while safeguarding the integrity of organisational systems is a tough balancing act for most IT decision-makers. But with the tools available today, enterprise IT and security teams are in as good a position as any to protect the business without negatively impacting the work of the isolated workforce. 

Fiona Boyd
Fiona Boyd, Head of Cyber-Security Operations at Fujitsu EMEIA

Fiona Boyd Web Site

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