The curtains have opened on 2020, and the scene depicted so far has been difficult to observe. In early March, COVID-19 literally took over the world, halting our day to day activities full stop. After some negligent optimism and resultant consequences, the 11th of the month saw the World Health Organization finally declare the Coronavirus to be a pandemic, forcing governments worldwide to come to terms with the outbreak and institute measures that would “flatten the curve”.
Countries closed their borders, disallowed public events, forced all nonessential businesses to close their doors and instructed that their employees work remotely. Some jobs cannot be done remotely while others can, and while the former have caused economic chaos the latter simply wreak their havoc on networks.
The primary strategy called social distancing goes hand-in-hand with working remotely, and has been one of the key tactics in limiting the spread of the coronavirus, yet this new way of doing things has its distinct disadvantages. While some experts might say lack of productivity is the biggest issue of the remote workforce, I think security is the biggest issue.
This is especially true with remote workers and the additional network security challenges and risks it presents. We talked to different security experts who explained this notion, and provided their best security tips when working remotely. Without further ado, here are the top security tips for organizations to follow to fight off any untimely attacks from malicious actors.
Accessing sensitive resources over public Wi-Fi or an unknown connection can prove risky to your remote employees as these connections are easy to hack. Hackers can easily gain access to the company’s confidential and valuable data when employees are connecting to public networks.
“Many newly remote workers don’t have a dedicated home office and have to go to coffee shops or other public areas. However, public Wi-Fi is incredibly insecure and can leave you and your company exposed — no matter what industry you’re in. The best practice when working outside your home is to use your phone’s personal hotspot as well as a business VPN. While VPNs can sometimes slow your connection, a phone’s 4G or 5G service is almost as fast as your home network access, so it won’t be terrible and could mean the difference between your company getting hacked or not.” – Michael Alexis, CIO of Team Building
Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is one of the key technologies in use today for verifying the identities of users. MFA requires that a user requesting access provides not only something that they know (their credentials) but also something that they have (their personal device).
“There are shortcomings with 2FA, as hackers can bypass wireless carriers, intercept or redirect SMS codes, and easily compromise credentials. Multi-factor authentication is more secure as it adds an additional layer of protection. Instead of just asking for a username and password, MFA requires additional credentials, such as a code from the user’s smartphone, the answer to a security question, a fingerprint, or facial recognition.” – Aaron Zander, Head of IT of HackerOne
The expectations for secure passwords have undoubtedly increased in recent years. Using common and frequent passwords have enabled hackers to access millions of accounts annually. This is why many experts are recommending that employers encourage workers to use a password manager.
“If office network permissions previously gave you unfettered access to work software, now you may be required to enter a variety of passwords to gain access. If your workplace doesn’t already offer a single sign-on service, consider using a password manager. It will be much more secure than a written list of passwords left on your desk.” Pieter Arntz, Malware Intelligence Researcher for Malwarebytes Labs.
With more and more organizations enforcing work from home with the current situation, many of them are thinking of implementing a legacy VPN. Network-security-wise, VPNs are not the right route to take and far from an adequate magic bullet – especially as workers go remote and resources move to the cloud. Check out our SDP vs VPN comparison page to learn more.
“Traditional VPN services are too lenient when it comes to visibility and security features. This results in your network and resources becoming more receptive to compromise by hackers. Instead of providing your employees with a traditional VPN, you should adopt an organization-wide Software-Defined Perimeter solution. Implementing a Software Defined Perimeter will allow you to restrict network access and provide customized, manageable and secure access to networked systems. Additionally, in the Zero Trust least-privilege model encouraged by SDP, each employee will gain secure access only to the organizational resources they need for their roles. This drastically reduces the attack surface.” Amit Bareket, Co-Founder and CEO of Perimeter 81
Email is the most popular method of communication on the Internet – maybe even on the planet. However, its popularity comes with risks. Hacking emails or phishing attacks are some of the oldest tricks in the book for hackers. It’s therefore important that remote workers know the best email security practices.
“Whenever you receive an email — even when it’s from your boss, a colleague, be sure to check the sender “From” field and also hover over any links or attachments before engaging with them. Phishing is commonly used to spread malware and to infiltrate businesses’ networks and databases and can be used to pull off business email compromise (BEC) scams. You can also use an email signing certificate (S/MIME) certificate to increase email security.” – Casey Crane, Cybersecurity Journalist at Sectigo
Easier said than done, we know, especially when the mirror image of this rule (BYOD, or Bring Your Own Device) is so prevalent. Still, just as it’s important to carve out boundaries between work life and home life while working from home, the same is true of those devices you use in these settings.
“Make sure that you have a malware protection software installed to monitor activity and keep out unwanted intruders. Also, make sure both your personal and business data are hosted on a secure platform that encrypts the files. Ideally, look for a platform that has built-in security timeouts if a device is left inactive too long and allows you to wipe data remotely in the event that your device is lost or compromised.” – Brian Schrader, Co-Founder and President of BIA,
Fighting off potential attacks from hackers is largely a matter of identifying their attempts, and employees can do so with a little security training. The more trained your organization is with the best avoidance practices, the more the chances of an attack on your network and organization decrease.
“Train and educate your employees about security awareness and protecting company information. Be sure to include situations that are unique to remote workers that wouldn’t normally show up when working on-prem, such as the dangers of using free public Wi-Fi. Instruct employees to disable Wi-Fi and Bluetooth services when not in use, to prevent their devices from connecting to unknown (and possibly malicious) networks.” – Darren Guccione, CEO of Keeper Security
With the right amount of security technologies and rules in place, IT teams can add an additional layer of defense versus hackers, and supplement it by encouraging more security hygiene among the workforce. The tips provided by the different security experts above should help your employees work safely and securely no matter where they choose to log in. Take a proactive approach to network security in these days of remote access, and it will continue paying dividends well into the future.