Guest Column | January 30, 2023

Strengthening IT Security To Manage Remote Workforce Vulnerabilities

By Nelson Cicchitto, Avatier

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One of the key takeaways from the impact of the pandemic is that remote workforces are here to stay. A shift borne of necessity has proven to be a favored alternative for many workers, with benefits for businesses as well. However, the work-from-home (WFH) movement also has exponentially increased the attack surface landscape.

Bring your own device (BYOD) for the remote workforce has enabled businesses to pivot to the new work style with speed and effectiveness. While today’s enterprise can embrace the many positives of the move to a remote workforce, security teams must tackle the arduous task of providing robust security to remote endpoints in the face of an escalating threat landscape.

Remote Worker Behaviors Introduce Vulnerabilities

Supporting a remote workforce requires giving users access to enterprise applications, data, and services. Access to sensitive data warrants careful user behaviors and awareness of heightened security practices. Bad habits can leave an open door for bad actors, which can lead to a devastating breach. Using home wireless or public Wi-Fi, sending unencrypted data, or transferring files between work and personal computers are risky and careless behaviors. Having weak and repeat passwords is also a common user practice and problem. Lax behaviors like working on public Wi-Fi at the local coffee shop or leaving a computer open and unattended with sensitive materials on display are just asking for trouble.

Cybersecurity Threats Exponentially Increase With A Remote Workforce

While the rush to remote working preserved business and job continuity for many, it has also been a boon for cybercriminals. Remote cybersecurity for mobile and offsite devices is challenging. According to Verizon's 2022 Mobile Security Index Report, 79% of security professionals surveyed agreed that remote working had adversely affected their cybersecurity, increasing the burden on security teams. Additionally, the report states that 82% of cyber breaches happened because of stolen credentials, phishing, misuse, or human error. Hackers know that people are the real security weak link and are too often easily duped into the ‘careless clicks’ that provide an easy access point for bad actors.

Incidents of email phishing scams and digital impersonation fraud are increased in WFH because all communications are largely through digital channels. It becomes more difficult for remote workers to spot a hacker masquerading as a legitimate source without the proximity and visibility of IT. Malware has increased with WFH and the vulnerabilities introduced by decreased IT control and endpoint exposure. Zero-day attacks like malware, spyware, phishing scams, and DDoS – the hacker’s specialty kit – all increase in danger and likelihood.

How To Strengthen Security Against Remote Workforce Vulnerabilities

Remote and hybrid working environments are the present and the future. Applying these best practices and security solutions can enhance the security of a growing enterprise.

  • Identity and Access Management (IAM) with zero trust architecture
  • VPN and firewall protection
  • Self-service password management tools
  • Multifactor authentication (MFA) and single sign-on (SSO)
  • Automated platforms and 24/7 AI virtual assistance
  • Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR)
  • Ongoing IT security testing program
  • Clear guidelines for remote worker threat response – where-what-who training

Many security practices and policies can strengthen an enterprise's cybersecurity posture. IAM and zero-trust architecture have become necessities. Zero-trust architecture is the position that everything is assumed to be hostile, including all endpoints. Pairing IAM with zero-trust will keep out unauthorized users while ensuring no user or device has more access privileges than required for a job. Access governance, provisioning, and credential management solutions across a distributed network are becoming essential for mitigating security threats. Remote employees can connect using a VPN, which offers secure connectivity to the enterprise. While VPNs won’t eliminate all threats, they are a crucial component of security defense. Unsecured network use in the remote workforce is an open invitation to malicious actors.

Within a comprehensive IAM program, password management is crucial. Remote users may store corporate passwords locally, so it’s essential to use software that can secure credentials across different environments, like Windows and IOS. Automated user provisioning with self-service password management tools saves time and money while creating heightened security. Instead of bogging down already overwhelmed help desks with password reset requests, users can reset, synchronize and manage their passwords.

Passwordless single sign-on (SSO) features utilizing multifactor authentication (MFA) biometrics of the user's face, fingerprints and voice can alleviate the pitfalls created by poor password and access practices while increasing user productivity.

Automated platforms streamline workflows and expedite on and off-boarding, IT audit reviews, and compliance reporting while providing IT visibility across all networks and systems. Employees working remotely must be as equipped as on-site employees, with access to the same approved products and tools. Time-saving and security-enforcing technologies like AI virtual assistants can provide 24/7/365 assistance for remote workers to handle the usual staffing and help desk requests, alleviating request pressures and improving user satisfaction, experience and productivity.

With the increase in remote endpoints, EDR becomes vitally important. IT needs visibility into endpoints to quickly discover and mitigate threats. EDR can protect against various threats, like malware, data leakage, and other malicious activities.

Today’s hybrid work environments require the expediency and cost advantages of allowing user-supplied devices to be weighed against the lack of IT visibility and control. A remote security plan must be developed that combines best practices for systems and users with advanced and integrated solutions. Clear threat response guidelines must be established for remote users that detail the who-what-where actions at the first sign of a threat. A critical component of any plan should be ongoing IT security testing that utilizes error and attack simulations to evaluate the effectiveness of security systems, policies, and user training. To do otherwise welcomes disaster.

About The Author

Nelson Cicchitto is President and CEO of Avatier Corporation, specialists in Identity Anywhere solutions for enterprise systems, which he helped launch in 1995.