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Network security concerns: Mo' remote workers mo' problems

When the network was built like a castle, located in one static location, it was easier to have perimeter defense–the castle walls, the moat and hill (i.e., the firewalls)–protecting the royalty… I mean, data. Nowadays, there’s more royalty (information) to keep track of and they don’t stay put within the safe walls of their core network/abode.

Needless to say, security is a primary networking concern (as was seen in a survey conducted last fall polling more than 1,200 readers). I blame this largely on the increase of wireless (many wireless network security best practices are mysteries to most), the growing deployment of mobile devices (anywhere access), and the fact that not only are corporate devices travelling well beyond office-building walls, but the workers are too.

Sixty percent of enterprises have wide-spread remote access–where 50% or more of the workforce have remote access to the internal network–according to Yankee Group who surveyed 200 enterprises last summer. Senior Analyst of Enterprise Research in Network Security Phil Hochmuth of Yankee Group reported that three years prior, less than 25% of organizations supported wide-spread remote access.

With such an increase in such short amount of time, it’s no wonder network administrators are worried about how to secure and manage all these people. I realize I’m one of them: in the past three years, the companies I have worked for either allowed me to work remotely or involved me working from home entirely; I’m living this statistic, as many of you now are too, I’m sure.

Office space can be costly for an enterprise, and for the workers–so can gas, auto-repairs, and overall transportation. But on top of avoiding commutes, there’s a business benefit; mobile workers in jobs like sales or consulting, which require them to travel, are able to access data, fill orders more quickly, and quicken the overall pace of business transactions because they no longer lose as much time when they’re on the road. Unfortunately for the system administrator, all of this remote interaction puts stress on the network.

Hochmuth said “increased employee productivity is the main driver behind the move to open up internal networks for anywhere access, and SSL VPNs are emerging as the main tool enterprises use to provide this type of access.”

Independent research firm Amplitude Research commissioned by VanDyke Software found in their Fourth Annual Enterprise Security Survey that organizations are heightening their commitment to securing data communications. Secure remote access was the number one security management issue facing their company, according to their 2007 survey.

“The survey findings correlate to what we see happening in the field,” said Jeff P. Van Dyke, president and founder of VanDyke Software: “There’s a lot on the plates of the systems administrators, and with securing remote access a top issue and secure file transfer showing significant increase as a top issue to manage within the enterprise, VanDyke Software focused on new features for SecureCRT 6.0 and SecureFX 6.0 that make life in these areas so much easier for IT and network administrators.”

Hochmuth said “enterprises are literally opening up for business when it comes to supporting the ability of their employees to work from anywhere.” And VanDyke Software is one such company “opening up for business” to meet the needs of floundering network administrator’s who have to implement and support the increasing number of remote workers for their companies.

I suspect many more are aiming to follow suit.

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I would agree but wish to add my ha'pennyworth. A few years ago I was given a laptop from an IT company to perform certain work for them. This I did. The OS (win XP without SP1 or 2) proved unstable. I was able to repair it myself and keep working using a pedestrian dial up login facility. I also used the laptop for all my other work, thus had only one to carry around. Due to the laptops being lost/stolen from other employees I had to return it to have pointsec put on. The company took exception to how I had configured the computer and gave me a locked down one in return which is no good for me with my other work. The result, I no longer care if this laptop lives or dies. If IT staff go too far, the users will get fed up and not care for the kit. Having peripatetic workers can be very cost effective for companies, but you have to have a human face to their IT or else problems occur. Out of 40 laptops on the contract only mine kept working because I had a vested interest in keeping it going. Outreach workers with dead laptops cost money, they still get paid for doing nothing! AMcF
We have been using the Cicsco VPN in combination with the RSA SecurID for several years now, and it works great for us. We have employees all over the state and all have access to the LAN from home and motels. I don't think we could do this if Win XP did not have it's own firewall. Also, I've stayed at some motels where VPN connections were not allowed thru their system. I avoid those now.
Dave O, could you give some examples of ones you avoid. Some of our users have run into the "works at some places, not at others"...wondering which ones you have noticed.
Having used my laptop over secure VPN networks while away from my desk, I can say that when properly administered, the user can enjoy access without worry. Both strong encryption and persistent authorization makes for safe remote access. My recommendation is VPN access hardware on server and laptop. With a fingerprint reader installed on the laptop for authorization, even a stolen machine will not be a breach of security, unless the victims finger was included in the heist. In addition to gaining access to my corporate servers and mainframe with security, I was also capable of telecommuting and doing all of my work from home. With complete console access to all my servers I was able to perform tasks that I normally would have to do from my desk, or in the server/data center. If companies want to save money on office space and employees on commuting expenses, the price must be paid in advance to deploy all of the security measures necessary to make remote users a boost in productivity and bottom line.