In late January, the World Health Organization declared the Coronavirus outbreak an international health emergency, and on March 11, 2020, they officially declared the virus to be a pandemic. It’s the first time the organization has declared a pandemic since the H1N1 “swine flu” in 2009. Though the numbers keep rising, currently over 315,000 cases have been reported in 109 countries, and over 13,500 have died from the virus.
While people think coronavirus is a new outbreak of disease, it is actually a common thread of various, known viruses. Officially named the 2019 Novel Coronavirus, or Wuhan Coronavirus, this latest and ongoing outbreak contains the most severe type of the virus. Some of the symptoms include coughs, sore throat, vomiting, lack of breath, and fever. A respiratory illness, the severity for patients has ranged from a mild cold to very serious symptoms that can (and do) lead to death. These symptoms tend to occur between 2 to 14 days after being infected.
The effects of this particular coronavirus have put a spotlight on the need to protect employee health and that of their organizations. Accordingly, remote work has gone from an already popular workplace strategy to a necessary one for companies worldwide. Organizations that have contact with people affected by the Wuhan strain of coronavirus need to consider how to restrict their employees from being in physical contact with each other and potentially infected individuals. As a central tenet of this strategy, gatherings of large numbers of people in public places or in the office should be avoided as much as possible.
A clear example of this precaution is the recently canceled World Mobile Congress. A majority of vendors decided to pull out of the event and its organizers requested that the city of Barcelona declare a state of health emergency, due to numerous attendees coming directly from the epicenter of Wuhan Coronavirus’s origins.
The concept of working remotely or working on the go isn’t a new trend, and has largely become the status quo for modern organizations. Allowing employees to work “off-campus” is a perk that has mutual advantages for both employees and organizations, and this is why 61% of organizations allow staff the privilege of remote work.
According to Harvard Business Review, ““A key takeaway from our research is that if a work setting is ripe for remote work – that is, the job is fairly independent and the employee knows how to do their job well – implementing WFA (working from anywhere) can benefit both the company and the employee”. This trend is only increasing, and has already grown 159% since 2005 – skyrocketing past the growth of the rest of the workforce.
In places like the UK and USA, the prevalence of flexible work policies runs parallel with employee preferences. This is no surprise, as managers and executives have found that implementing a remote work policy improves productivity so much that it’s easily measurable, with the estimate that flexible work models will save organizations up to $4.5 trillion in the US alone by 2030. One part of this more tangible productivity is sick days, which traditionally cost organizations significantly when they need to be used, but are reduced by over 13% among remote workers. Another measure is retention. It comes as no great shock that when 70% of potential hires consider remote work flexibility a top priority as to whether or not they’ll join, that organizations who do offer it will retain employees with 10% greater efficiency in 2020.
To fight off the spread of Coronavirus, organizations are enforcing remote work as a necessity instead of a privilege. Around 60 million people in China were forced to work from home in January as the government tried to contain the virus. Most recently, with the global spread of the virus, major tech giants have begun to follow suit. Twitter has asked all of its international employees to work from home, and Amazon, headquartered in Seattle, now labeled “America’s Corona Virus Capital,” has begun planning remote access stress tests for all employees.
Over the past ten years, organizations around the globe are increasing and expanding opportunities for remote work due to the need for an agile workforce spurred on by new technology. Yet despite the advancement of tech and the tools that create an increasingly mobile workforce, the trend comes with risks that have more to do with network health than personal health.
The burgeoning remote work paradigm is creating countless security gaps for organizations. While remote workers might be easier targets for hackers, all employees must be aware of the different attacks that will exploit human behavior to open the door for hackers. One of the easiest attack vectors is unsecured Wi-Fi networks.
When allowing employees to work remotely, organizations must clearly outline those remote employees’ responsibilities regarding IT security best practices and the importance of data protection. To provide another layer of defense vs unauthorized network access, organizations must implement remote-worker-specific security policies which include device monitoring, multi-factor authentication and Wi-Fi security.
Today the majority of global organizations still depend on legacy hardware-based VPN technology for secure network access and access to cloud resources on different networks. These site-centric and hardware-based network security appliances that we’ve relied on for the past 30 years are no longer adequate in securing remote and on-premise access.
In providing secure network access to remote workers, organizations need to create and implement different security strategies to fight off different attacks on their network and resources. The user-centric Zero Trust security model enforces multiple layers of verification before granting resource access to any user.
Additionally, by implementing a solution that offers Software-Defined Perimeter architecture, organizations are helped to deploy perimeters globally while retaining the traditional model’s value of invisibility and inaccessibility to “outsiders”. These can be deployed anywhere – on the internet, in the cloud, at a hosting center, on the private corporate network, or across some or all of these locations.
To prevent remote access risks such as a sudden movement of employees off-premises in order to fight off Coronavirus, organizations should implement Software-Defined Perimeter technology and the Zero Trust model to ensure secure access by authorized devices, users and locations. They should also seek services that include advanced or even automatic Wi-Fi security features, ensuring employee communications are encrypted across all Internet connections. With the right security tools in place, organizations can ensure that only authorized connections are being established while leaving their cloud environments completely hidden from attacks, giving networks as clean a bill of health as their users.