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Secure access at heart of remote working

The global move to the blended, digital workforce introduces concerns around security, access and business confidentiality, writes TONY WALT, managing executive for security at Dimension Data.

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The global pandemic has almost completely changed traditional working models and approaches. Even those organisations resistant to cloud, digital and remote working have had to flex and adapt to the requirements of social and legal distancing regulations. The new workforce emerging from the rubble of the year wants the freedom to leverage both digital and physical environments to get the job done. Approaches have changed, methodologies have shifted, and statistics point to the rise of the blended workplace where people work from a mix of remote and office spaces. However, as companies and employees evolve and adapt to the new world of work, there is a critical need to embed security into this evolution from the outset.

The introduction of remote working, be it from home or any location that’s not the office, has also introduced vulnerabilities. Are all employees using devices issued by their organisations with the relevant controls, or are some using their own devices because pandemic restrictions limited their access? Who has access to these devices? The security risk isn’t just that family members could accidentally introduce malware or download unsafe content, but that patch and vulnerability management isn’t being implemented correctly. Whether a device is company-owned or part of a bring your own device (BYOD) strategy, organisations still need to ensure that policies around patches, security and access are rigorously maintained.

The problem in the pandemic is that IT departments were thrust into remote working conditions as rapidly as everyone else. Patch management, security, access, remote management – these concerns had to be addressed remotely, often while adapting to new systems and solutions cobbled together at the last minute. Juggling remote employees learning how to work from kitchens and bar stools while keeping the company lights on and ensuring systems were capable of handling the stress meant that IT teams have been under immense pressure to keep the business running.

But the time to embed security is now. The attack surface has increased significantly, spreading outwards alongside a distributed workforce that could be easily contained in the past. A thousand people suddenly working from a thousand locations instead of the one that they had before. That alone captures the magnitude of the change with regards to traffic flows alone.

Threat hunters have been taking advantage of the chaos – phishing attacks have increased; malware is on the rise and ransomware continues to plague even the most sophisticated systems. People are lured into clicking links that have been designed to prey on the fear factor, using terms such as Covid-19 and vaccination. And because they are external to the office, people are more vulnerable and susceptible than in the past.

Addressing Access Practically

Addressing these risks to ensure secure access starts with a security awareness training programme for all employees. This will provide them with insight into the types of attack that would be aimed at them, how to identify attacks, and understanding around the risks. It will ensure that the standards and basic controls around email hygiene and online behaviour are clearly understood, and that passwords are to the right levels for remote access and information sharing.  It’s also worth implementing additional controls at the infrastructure level that ensure firewalls and access, among other factors, are absolutely secure. These can be further enhanced by undertaking a cybersecurity assessment designed to identify vulnerabilities and evaluate the controls that are in place.  In addition, threat monitoring and management has to become a priority. Often, issues aren’t caught and compromises missed due to the complexities introduced by the virtual workplace. Organisations need the insights provided by threat analysis so that they can make the right security decisions.

The problem is time and skills. Few organisations have the capacity, tools or experience to monitor secure access 24/7 with the right levels of control.  Yet they have to constantly monitor for threats and compromise to ensure that they mitigate risk for governance and compliance. This can be resolved by working with a partner that can take care of the three Ps – platform, people and process. A security management partner can not only take care of security systems across email, scanning, behaviour and risk, but can support an organisation’s security in terms of governance and compliance. With the right partner, the business can look at the broader picture while the security partner ensures that cybersecurity is never neglected, always on, and capable of mitigating the most significant threats.

The world of work will likely remain in flux for the foreseeable future as organisations adapt to ongoing uncertainty. This means that security will have to constantly change and adapt to match. It’s a challenge, but one that can be mitigated with the right partner and posture. 

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