Few IT topics have received as much attention in 2020 as the rapid shift to remote working arrangements. The COVID-19 crisis forced many companies to transition into remote work without a clear plan, forcing them to confront a variety of security and compliance risks. Taking the time to think about how to implement remote network access successfully could very well prove to be a competitive advantage if enterprises continue to keep their offices closed.
While there are many different ways of thinking about remote access, at a very basic level remote network access allows people to access enterprise computer systems and software without directly connecting to them. Employees who are working remotely from their homes, for instance, can use remote network access to use data and applications stored in the enterprise network.
Logging into these networks remotely used to only be possible by using specialized remote access servers that controlled permission levels. Today, however, many organizations manage their hybrid IT networks through cloud computing services and virtual private network (VPN) tools. For more complex network environments, zero-trust network access (ZTNA) offers an even greater level of segmentation and control when it comes to managing who has access to network systems and under what conditions.
With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to push organizations into remote working arrangements, it’s more important than ever for them to put careful thought into how they set up remote network access for their employees.
5 Remote Network Security Concerns
There are a number of issues that organizations need to address when setting up a longstanding remote network access solution. Taking the time to identify areas of concern from the beginning ensures that a remote network will have the right foundations in place for long-term success.
1. Who Has Access?
This is perhaps the most important question to ask about a remote work environment. Just as not every employee in the office needs access to all essential files and applications, remote employees often only need to be able to access a limited portion of the network in order to do their jobs. Every additional person granted security access creates another potential vulnerability that could be exploited. In an office environment, physical security makes it easier to manage access. When working remotely, however, everyone is accessing the network in the same fashion. It’s important to decide what level of access each user is granted.
2. Workload Security
Remote work environments often incorporate hybrid IT arrangements that place some workloads on physical servers in a data center while hosting others on public cloud platforms. While performance and ease-of-use are usually the key factors in deciding where to place workloads, it’s also critically important to take security into account. Essential data needs to be encrypted at all times, whether it’s at rest or moving from one environment to another. There’s also the question of how people will be accessing that data. After all, the last thing an organization wants is for someone to access one portion of the network and then move laterally to another, more sensitive area. By identifying where sensitive data will be best protected, they can place workloads in such a way as to maximize data security.
3. Credentials and Passwords
In addition to determining who should have access and where data is located, putting an authentication system in place to manage access is another important consideration. At a bare minimum, some form of multi-factor authentication should be used to prevent a hacker from being able to access sensitive data simply by acquiring one form of credential. Password management solutions are especially critical here given that commonly used or weak passwords represent a serious security vulnerability.
By their very nature, highly distributed remote networks are an enticing target for cyberattackers. That’s because even though the network itself may be highly secure, the home networks being used by remote employees are often far less secure. Whether it’s an unsecured WiFi connection or a personal laptop with an unpatched operating system vulnerability, there are a number of ways that hackers can exploit weak remote network access controls to gain a foothold in a broader network. When organizations implement remote networks, they need to consider how those changes will impact their cybersecurity needs.
5. Ad Hoc Infrastructure Solutions
When the COVID-19 pandemic caused many companies to quickly transition to remote work arrangements, there was still a great deal of uncertainty about how long the situation would last. While some organizations recognized that additional investments would be necessary to implement a remote office for the long-term, others took more of a “wait and see” approach that leaned on short-term solutions in the hopes of returning to the office in a few weeks. As one might expect, early data has found that companies that were more prepared to work remotely outperformed their competitors. With a large number of firms still planning to work remotely well into 2021, it’s clear that decisions regarding remote network access should not be approached in a temporary, ad hoc fashion, but rather as part of a long-term solution that recognizes the important role that remote networks will play in the future.
5 Tips for a Successful Remote Network Access Setup
1. Consider Your Compliance Needs
Shifting to a remote work environment is an easy decision for many companies, but for others it raises a variety of complicated questions pertaining to regulatory compliance. If employees are going to be using remote network access to view and handle sensitive data and applications, it’s important to think about how that will impact compliance requirements related to data security. A healthcare organization, for instance, must make sure that their remote network access is in accordance with HIPAA guidelines to protect personal health information. By the same token, shifting to a distributed, remote workforce could introduce a range of security problems that were not addressed in the scope of existing SOC 2 attestation reports. In some cases, the solution may only require expanded employee education, but in others, new security controls may need to be put in to address potential compliance risks.
2. Establish a Device Policy
Unsecured devices represent one of the greatest threats in a remote working environment. When employees have the ability to use any device they want to access an enterprise network, they could potentially introduce a wide range of threats in the form of destructive malware and compromised programs that provide hackers a back door into the device. However remote network access is managed, every additional device used to log into an enterprise network represents an additional point of vulnerability. And this is to say nothing of the unsecured home networks that many employees are likely utilizing.
Putting a firm, detailed device policy in place can significantly reduce the risk of a security breach. Even if it’s not possible for an IT department to issue each employee a secure device, restricting network access to a single personal device can still help to keep risks in check. Ideally, ZTNA architecture can be put in place to provide an additional layer of contextual controls based on least-privilege access.
3. Think About Data Management
Imagine a scenario in which a remote employee is working with customer data and decides to download a portion of that data to their device’s storage for later use. Suddenly, that data has been taken from the secure confines of the enterprise network and thrown “into the wild,” where it could be easily lost, corrupted, or stolen without the proper security controls in place to keep it safe. The situation could be even more complicated in a hybrid IT environment that involves multiple workloads and networks. It all may work properly within the confines of the office, but with a distributed workforce unaccustomed to accessing data and applications remotely, there may be significant confusion on how to handle information assets. Without a clear plan in place, the chances of something going wrong are significantly higher.
4. Redundancy, Redundancy, Redundancy
While a solid backup strategy should be a core feature of any enterprise network, organizations shouldn’t take any chances when it comes to their mission-critical data and applications. This is especially true of companies that rely on their networks to deliver services. The last thing they want to have happen (aside from a data breach) is for the increased strain of a remote workforce to result in costly system downtime. That could very well mean increasing bandwidth capacity with a data center provider or spinning up virtual machines to handle the increased demands on the network. Expanding a remote workforce quickly introduces numerous variables into a network that could result in problems no one could anticipate. By setting up robust backup solutions, companies can ensure that they’ll be able to recover quickly from any downtime without losing critical data.
5. Evaluate Your Cloud Needs
Some organizations may simply not be set up to facilitate remote work. Fortunately, cloud computing solutions provide substantial flexibility for a company that needs to implement remote work capabilities quickly. Whether it’s adding productivity capabilities or setting up a virtual private network (VPN) to facilitate secure remote access, cloud computing platforms offer a wide range of services that make it easier for organizations to maintain high levels of efficiency, productivity, and security when moving into a remote environment. Data centers can make this transition easier by providing colocated servers with the direct cloud on-ramps needed to build flexible hybrid IT environments.
Building Better Remote Network Access with vXchnge
As an award-winning colocation provider, vXchnge provides an extensive range of tools that allow organizations to set up remote network access securely and effectively. Engineered for perfection and backed by 100% uptime SLAs, our data centers deliver the very best in reliability to keep your essential systems up and running for your remote workforce. A vibrant connectivity marketplace lets our clients choose from the leading cloud service providers as their remote work needs change. To learn more about how vXchnge can provide the very best foundation for your remote network access, contact one of our colocation experts today.
About Alan Seal
Alan Seal is the VP of Engineering at vXchnge. Alan is responsible for managing teams in IT support and infrastructure, app development, QA, and ERP business systems.