5 Strategies for Securing Your Remote Workforce

By: Kaylie Gyarmathy on April 1, 2020

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.

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.

5 Strategies for Securing Your Remote Workforce

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.

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.

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