Many organizations are experiencing a rapid expansion in their remote workforce as a direct result of recent events. With the rise of coronavirus and social distancing initiatives, more people are working remotely than ever before. While remote work has its perks, it is not always ideal from a cybersecurity standpoint. This sudden, unexpected transition from on-premise to at-home work can leave gaping holes in an organization’s cybersecurity regimen, and attackers are going to be on the lookout for low-hanging fruit.
Securing remote teams can be challenging for many reasons. Legacy options for managing remote workforce security are cumbersome and are typically limited in their capabilities. Slow connections, poor visibility and overly complicated configurations are just some of the issues that can impact cybersecurity for remote teams. However, maintaining your cybersecurity posture across the remote workforce is achievable. Consider these seven best practices for staying secure while working from home.
Digital Security While Working Remotely
Maintaining digital security while working remotely is a top priority for organizations operating in the world today. For many, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a dramatic change in how daily operations are run.
Shifting in-house staff to remote positions en masse overnight is a challenge in and of itself, but securing the devices remote workers are using is a critical step for overall cybersecurity. As businesses undergo massive changes at a lightning pace, malicious actors are looking for their next easy target. Such a sudden transition in the workforce can leave holes in your cybersecurity protocol, and attackers will make quick use of those weak points if no resolution is found.
The shift from using a company network in-house to accessing corporate infrastructure from home can be quite significant; organizations would do well to ensure that remote workers are following basic cyber hygiene and that remote devices are secured against potential cybersecurity threats.
Cyber Hygiene for Remote Work
Cyber hygiene refers to the basic security practices organizations should follow to help minimize their cybersecurity risks. These best practices include:
- Patch regularly: Patching devices and software is essential for resolving cyber vulnerabilities.
- Implement user restrictions: Only users who need admin-level privilege should have it. Other users should have limited capabilities.
- Have a back-up: Protect data from attackers and other threats by backing it up on an alternative source, such as the cloud or on an external hard drive.
- Password policies: Ensure employees create secure passwords and change them on a regular basis.
- Track new installs: New installs should be done correctly and documented for inventory.
- Secure all endpoints: Managing endpoints is critical to good cyber hygiene.
Cyber hygiene for remote work requires detailed endpoint security. IT staff should have an inventory of all endpoints, as well as full visibility over the patch status of those endpoints. Endpoints include every end-user device that is on an organization’s network, such as laptops or desktops. Remote devices, such as the devices so many people are now using to work from home, need to be secured against threats, just like your on-premise equipment.
Endpoints are prime targets, even for novice attackers. A majority of data breaches originate on endpoints, and remote endpoints are no less susceptible to attack. An unpatched endpoint is a cybersecurity risk, no matter where it is located.
Managing Remote Workers with Patch Management
Implementing a patch management routine can help organizations secure remote endpoints against potential cyber threats. Patching, or deploying security updates, is critical to resolving vulnerabilities found in devices and software and reducing the risk of attack. And with a good patch management protocol that follows best practices, organizations can ensure they’re covering all the bases. Some of the basic elements of patch management best practices include:
Keep an inventory
IT staff need an inventory of all systems, including remote devices, so they know what devices and software need to be updated.
Creating a patching schedule can help organizations ensure necessary patches are deployed and not overlooked.
Data on patch status is essential for assessing an organization’s overall security risk in the face of a new threat. Maintaining regular data reports can help improve response time and help organizations minimize their attack surfaces.
Implementing an automated patch management platform can help organizations streamline the process of patching.
Organizations that rely on legacy technologies, such as VPNs and on-premise patching platforms, may find that the process of patching is overly complicated and time-consuming. Patching remote endpoints through these means can be a total nightmare for IT staff for a number of reasons. On-premise patching solutions, like WSUS or SCCM, are restricted in their abilities to patch alternative operating systems and third-party applications, and visibility over endpoints can be limited as well.
In many cases, remote workers may also be relying on a VPN (virtual private network) to connect to corporate infrastructure and receive security updates. VPNs can be limited in their ability to handle increased traffic — and in the COVID-19 times, many organizations have been forced to put their VPN’s bandwidth to the test. If the VPN isn’t able to handle the increased traffic of a rapidly expanding remote workforce, slow service can impede users’ connections to the company’s network. User frustration can build, and some may refuse to connect entirely — meaning critical security updates may not be received. Failure to patch those endpoints can ultimately lead to exploitation of a known vulnerability.
Modern patch management solutions, like Automox, make it possible for users to patch remote devices without the limitations seen in legacy technologies. Cloud-native patch management platforms enable users to create inventories and have full visibility over the patch status of every endpoint, including remote devices. As a cross-platform patching solution, Automox gives users the ability to patch across multiple operating systems and third-party applications from a single interface. Legacy options leave a lot to be desired in today’s digital landscape, but there are options for maintaining a strong cybersecurity posture for remote workers.
Data security for remote workers
Remote workers face a number of security challenges that may not be as visible in the office. Corporate infrastructure may boast a number of security features that are not readily accessible to individuals working on a personal device from their home network. Remote employees may be connecting to unsecured WiFi networks or using unknown software, and in general, may present a higher risk to an organization’s cybersecurity than in-house staff. Comprehensive data security for remote workers is crucial due to these increased risks.
Employee education is a powerful tool when it comes to data security. Ensuring that both in-house and remote staff can spot a phishing email and respond accordingly is critical to an organization’s overall cybersecurity. Password hygiene is another consideration; implementing password policies can help reduce unnecessary risks. Overall, a basic understanding of cybersecurity best practices can be extremely helpful in ensuring remote employees are doing their due diligence to keep systems secure.
Another measure organizations can take is to limit remote user accessibility as needed. Only users that require administrative-level access should have it; all others should have limited privileges.
All of these steps can help ensure remote devices are secured against potential threats, improving overall data security for your remote workforce. Patching regularly for remote devices can help organizations fortify other security efforts and minimize their attack surface. Remote endpoints are just as likely to be compromised as your on-premise equipment, if not more so. Ensuring that remote devices are patched reduces the likelihood that one of those devices will be compromised.
How workers can improve cybersecurity
Making improvements to the cybersecurity status of the remote workforce is a major challenge many organizations are facing today. One significant change every organization should consider is how they approach patch management for remote devices. Legacy patching options such as WSUS are limited in their ability to patch remote devices, and VPNs put the onus on the user to connect to the network in order for patches to even be received. The patching options of yore lack the agility necessary to patch across multiple operating systems and third party applications, and are further encumbered by a lack of endpoint visibility.
Recent statistics show that less than 50 percent of organizations are able to patch quickly enough to safeguard against critical threats and zero-day attacks — and over 80 percent have experienced a data breach within the last two years. The vast majority of breaches originate on an endpoint, and research from the Ponemon Institute suggests that the frequency of attacks on endpoints has been increasing over the last year.
Patch management is essential to overall endpoint security; endpoints are not properly secured if they haven’t been patched. Ensuring endpoints are secure is integral to overall data security, and for remote workers, making sure remote devices are receiving critical security updates is an essential step in improving data security.
Cybersecurity checklist for remote workers
Securing the remote workforce requires a special emphasis on following cyber hygiene basics and patch management best practices. Remote devices are often some of the most vulnerable, especially during a time when so many organizations have had to rapidly change how they do business. Utilizing the core competencies of cyber hygiene and patch management can help ensure your organization is protected, even when everyone is working from home. A cybersecurity checklist for remote workers should include:
Inventory of all systems
Inventorying all devices and software is a critical element of cyber hygiene and patch management best practices, and it is even more important for remote workers. Having a living record of all devices and software being used remotely is essential to ensuring endpoints are secured properly.
Ensure remote employees can identify phishing emails and understand the basic elements of cybersecurity, such as password protection.
Remote employees should follow the same password protocols as in-house staff.
Track software installs
All new installs should be done correctly and inventoried appropriately. Remote workers may have additional third-party software on their devices that needs to be accounted for and updated regularly.
Having full visibility over the patch status of remote endpoints strengthens overall cybersecurity efforts. Modern tools make it possible for organizations to know which devices have received critical security updates and see what still needs remediation. This enables IT staff to resolve vulnerabilities faster and more efficiently.
All endpoints need to be patched regularly in order to mitigate cyber vulnerabilities and reduce the risk of attack. Patching security vulnerabilities minimizes the attack surface and reduces the likelihood of an endpoint being compromised by a malicious actor.
Cloud-based, automated tools can help organizations streamline the process of patching remote devices. Cloud-native platforms like Automox can be installed on virtually any device and simplifies the process of deploying security updates to remote endpoints. Automating the patching process helps ensure overall cybersecurity efficiency, giving users the option to set a patching schedule tailored to fit their needs. With automated patching, organizations can ensure that security updates are getting deployed in a timely manner and without the hassle that comes with manual patching.
Recent events have caused major changes to everyday business operations. Many organizations have been forced to make a rapid shift from on-premise to remote work, and this can have a profound effect on overall cybersecurity. As endpoints move from in-house to an unplanned, remote environment, there can be several challenges. Most notably, users may have an aversion to slow VPN connections — which can ultimately prevent them from receiving critical security updates. However, modern patch management solutions make it possible for organizations to manage the security of their endpoints without the hassle of legacy solutions.
With modern patching tools, organizations can stay ahead of threats, even during the most inconvenient of disruptions. Attackers will be looking to capitalize on major disruptions, and legacy patching solutions are not savvy enough to secure an entire workforce gone remote. Securing remote workforces in the modern digital landscape can be a challenge, but it doesn’t have to be.