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8 remote work security risks and tips to mitigate them

On a positive note, the coronavirus crisis provides network managers with an opportunity to bolster their remote work security programs now and for the long term.

Just when you thought you had your network under control, everything went sideways because of the coronavirus crisis. Many people were caught off guard as they're now forced to deploy and support a remote workforce like no one ever imagined. Security was challenging before, but now, remote work security presents additional headaches. But a silver lining is visible.

Most of the network security challenges are nothing new. What is new, however, is the reality that your users, systems and the information you're trying to protect are, in many ways, no longer under your control. Users are calling their own shots, and you're not even seeing it happen. This type of situation, which most organizations are experiencing, is riddled with risk.

Whether the network threats are intentional or not, they're still predictable. Hackers, malware and even users themselves routinely pose certain security hazards. Many remote work security risks abound, but the ones that jump out in this current situation are the following:

  • lack of information in terms of traditional network security technologies, such as firewalls and intrusion prevention systems, since those systems may be largely out of the equation now;
  • users sharing passwords among websites and users of their computers, especially when personal computers are involved;
  • software that's installed on computers, tablets and phones that may violate your security standards and put sensitive information, VPN connections and more at risk;
  • laptops, tablets and phones that may not be encrypted and, therefore, could be exposing corporate assets and network connections, especially when these systems are removed from users' homes;
  • patches that are not applied because users are either not used to seeing the prompts or they just don't want to deal with them;
  • endpoint data that is not backed up or is being backed up to vulnerable or unsupported media, such as USB hard drives and consumer-based cloud services;
  • users buying and selling computers, tablets and phones without properly reloading or sanitizing the hard drives; and
  • phishing and related attacks, including smishing and vishing.
The essence of your network security challenge is users are now, more than ever, making security decisions on your behalf.

Combine these issues with your newly expanded attack surface and all the distractions of working from home, and you've got yourself a formidable security challenge on your hands. Arguably, more than you've ever experienced.

The essence of your network security challenge is users are now, more than ever, making security decisions on your behalf. Think about what you can do to minimize such decisions or at least minimize their effect on your business. Consider the following:

  • Could you ratchet up your policies or security training? Now is probably not the time to inundate your users with emails about phishing scams. What else can you do? Odds are you're not going to get everyone on the same web conference. What about creating some interesting videos on YouTube that you can share? Maybe now is the time to purchase a good awareness and training platform. Just be sure to get HR involved as their voice in the security discussion is critical.
  • Are there technical controls that could be pushed out to further lock things down? Technical controls are a great way to modify behaviors. Do you have remote access mastered? What about your endpoints? What about web access and content filtering? Are there cloud services that need to be further secured? This may not be a good time to roll out multifactor authentication, but it can certainly buy you a lot of security.
  • Do you need more information about your users' computers in order to make better security decisions? A simple tool such as Speccy can provide good insight into what's running and what might need improving.
Look at this coronavirus situation as an opportunity to make your network security program better.

Now is not the time to do more of the same with network security. Instead, you've got to figure out how to get your users working for you rather than against you. The same boring messages and dictates are not going to work. You'll have to get creative as you address remote work security.

Ask the tough questions so that everyone is accountable. Push out messages of positivity and encouragement that will help get and keep your users on your side. Free tools, such as those offered by Lucy Security and SANS, can help lighten the load.

Unless and until technical staff, employees and management are working toward the same goals in terms of security standards, policies and expectations, there will be tangible risks. Most people have already established their baseline in this new normal. However, from what I'm seeing and hearing from clients and colleagues, there are still lots of opportunities to properly mitigate certain threats and vulnerabilities.

Don't just address these areas of network security now and then get back into your old ways once the pandemic subsides. Look at this coronavirus situation as an opportunity to make your network security program better. Find where your gaps are and what needs to be fixed -- and how it can be fixed -- while also taking a long-term perspective. IT and security will never be the same. If you gain control over and master the difficult things now, you'll be golden when the next situation arrives.

This was last published in April 2020

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