The COVID-19 pandemic has unleashed a work from home revolution. Even after the pandemic subsides and offices re-open, remote work will be a permanent mode of operation for a huge swath of the workforce.

Remote work introduces a host of new security challenges. With a highly distributed workforce and less physical control and supervision of networks, devices, and staff, there is a larger attack surface and many more security risks for organizations.

In this blog, we will explore the four largest security challenges created by the work from home trend and what to do about them.

1. BYOD and lack of standards

The COVID-19 crisis spawned a lot of improvisation. Faced with the rapid shutdown of in-office operations, nearly every company sent office workers home. Many employees did not have corporate issued laptops or company-owned desktops available in their home offices. Organizations had to adapt by providing remote access from employee owned devices such as home office desktops and laptops.

In a crisis, this was an acceptable short term solution. However, there are lots of security issues with corporate access from personal devices. It is not recommended. First, there are too many variables that are outside of a company’s control when leveraging personally owned devices. It is difficult to control who is accessing the computer. In some circumstances, other household members may wittingly or unwittingly gain access to corporate information or personally identifiable information. The risks of malware, spyware, key loggers and the like also go up. And data governance becomes more difficult.

The solution is to standardize on corporate issued laptops and desktops, along with standardized operating system and software images for corporate machines. For most users, a corporate issued laptop is the preferred solution. With docking stations, external monitors, and peripherals, a corporate-issued laptop today checks all the boxes for most professionals. In addition, with standardized software images and strictly controlled corporate devices, organizations can better ensure cyber security and technology acceptable use policy enforcement. In short, standard issued corporate computers are the right answer for employee productivity, security and control.

2. Home networks

Like with computing from employee-owned devices, home office networks are prone to quality and security issues. With the widespread use of video conferencing today, staffers need stable, low latency, and high bandwidth network connections – either wired or Wi-Fi – to collaborate throughout the day. Relying on household networking gear can result in poor network connections, sub-par video conferencing, and frustrated staff. Household networks may not be properly secured or be vulnerable to snooping. Consumer-grade firewalls and routers are not event close to meeting the current corporate security standards. What passes for a home networking solution is many cases not even legal for most businesses in MA. Anywhere you have company data and traffic, you need the commensurate security products and solutions in place.

The solution is to implement a teleworker networking solution which segments and isolates the home office network. From a practical perspective, both household users and home office workers will share the same high-speed internet connection. But by putting a corporate controlled firewall in place with a dedicated Wi-Fi network, it is easier to guarantee a quality networking experience, along with security. At NENS, we standardize on Cisco Meraki for our teleworker networking solution. With Meraki, we are able to guarantee secure remote access, firewalling, and a fully segmented and controlled Wi-Fi network. Network performance issues are easier to identify, troubleshoot, and resolve and other tasks like printing and the like are all more stable when all corporate issued gear sits behind the teleworker firewall.

3. Employee supervision

The work from home trend has introduced a range of new challenges for supervising staff, keeping them productive, and preventing the unauthorized use of technology. Companies are accountable for the behavior and actions of their staff, whether they are in-office or working from home. Not surprisingly, when folks are in an office environment, most employees easily comply with acceptable use policies and avoid visiting unauthorized websites or other prohibited online content.

By contrast, when working from home, face to face employee supervision is impossible and there is no one looking over an employee’s shoulder. Therefore, there are greater risks that employees may be tempted to access pornography or other unauthorized content from their work machines. Moreover, without the benefits of the office environment, people may waste more time on social media and other unproductive activities.

The solution is to double down on your training and enforcement of corporate acceptable use policies, while leveraging technology to monitor and manage a highly distributed workforce.

Organizations should refresh and reinforce their acceptable use policies. These policies should be updated to reflect the new realities of the work from home trend. It is vital to train employees on these policies and get written sign off on their acceptance. Employees need to understand that they should have zero expectations of privacy on their corporate issued equipment and software systems. In our view, it is best to advise your staff that their machines, email, and other software tools are proactively monitored and that policies violations will be addressed. In our view, corporate transparency and personal accountability are superior to a cloak and dagger approach.

From a technology perspective, content filtering and application monitoring should be employed to monitor and manage employee website visits and application use. Key categories of content should be filtered and blocked automatically. At NENS, we deploy Cisco Umbrella to every corporate issued machine. Umbrella provides content filtering and monitoring, along with DNS security features which block access to malicious content and mitigate the risks of malware infections. Umbrella also gives network administrators fine grained visibility to the cloud applications in use by the workforce.

In addition to content filtering and application management, organizations should proactively manage their security posture whether employees are in-office, on the road, or working from home. Security incident and event management (SIEM) and managed detection and response (MDR) technologies proactively monitor network traffic and employee behavior, with an eye towards detecting anomalous network traffic and application behavior which may be indicative of a security breach. With SEIM and MDR, companies are better prepared to detect security incidents or breaches early on, when corrective active can be taken to mitigate major business risks.

4. Larger attack surface

As we have explored in this blog, the work from home mega-trend has dramatically increased the “attack surface” for organizations. By attack surface, we mean the total range of devices, systems, software, and people that can be attacked by hackers and cyber criminals. Today’s attack service is vastly larger and more complex when compared with the traditional situation when most employees were in-office and protected behind the corporate firewall. Therefore, it is vital for organizations to execute a layered approach to approach to cyber security.

When there is no longer a network perimeter, identity and access management becomes one of the most important layers of defense in protecting employees, corporate data, and infrastructure. That’s why at NENS, we strongly suggest the use of multi-factor authentication (MFA). An MFA solution leverages something the user knows, such as their password, with something they have, such as a smartphone with an authenticator application that generates a randomly generated one-time password.

With MFA, even if a cyber criminal compromises a user’s password, their attempt to authenticate and breach the user’s account will fail because they don’t have user’s smart phone handy. At NENS, we standardize on MFA powered by Cisco Duo, an industry-leading and easy to use MFA solution.

The work from home trend was the saving grace for the economy during the pandemic. In the post-pandemic world, work from home will usher in a new wave of productivity for employees and organizations alike. As we have seen in this blog, the new security and management risks from work from home are well understood and can be proactively addressed with management expertise, security and technology.

For new clients seeking a cyber security assessment or consultation, please reach out to the team at NENS to get started.