June saw the beginning of a return to work for some organisations as lockdown restrictions were gradually lifted and social distancing measures have been incorporated in workplaces across the UK. However, a large number of companies still remain which are not able to reopen their offices safely enough for their staff and the executive decision has been taken to keep staff and their families safe by continuing to work from home.
Some of these organisations have robust IT systems and cyber security plans in place to keep business information secure. But there still remains a sizable amount of businesses whose employees are working remotely on unsecure networks and devices, leaving the company they work for and the information it handles open to a full scale data breach. With The Guardian reporting that cyber attacks involving malicious email traffic in the UK rose from 12% to 60% in the first six weeks of lockdown, now is the time to address the issue of remote working cyber security.
How are we securing the data?
If the security bar was lowered to enable remote working back in March when the lockdown was announced, we now need to rebuild it so that everything is covered. If we’re accepting a wider scope of remote working, we need to ensure a high level of corporate control. Most businesses had to implement remote working on the fly, but now things have calmed down and people have had time to adjust, we can think more calmly and shore up the defences by putting a well thought out cyber security plan in place.
Beware of untrusted machines
There is probably a mixture of corporate and personal equipment being used by remote workers. Data will likely be flowing in and out and it is vitally important that this is addressed to ensure that we are not allowing data to flow in an uncontrolled manner. In the corporate arena, data is largely controlled on company devices with compliance and information governance policies, data leakage prevention (DLP) platforms, antivirus software and secure VPN connections over the internet but with home and personal machines, it is likely that there is untrusted software on these devices and a good chance that children at home have access to parents’ laptops and are using them to access the internet for homework and research, leaving them vulnerable to all sorts of malware and phishing emails. These aren’t trusted devices and it is not viable to make them trusted so we now need to think about the mechanisms of remote access and how to implement a secure system for all.
The three factors to address in the remote working model
Here we are dealing with a reasonably mature aspect of remote working. For some time now, we have been used to having our emails accessible on our mobile phones and lately, we have all been making calls over the internet on Skype, Teams and Zoom. With PIN lock features, fingerprint and face identification measures required on all modern smartphones, this is largely taken care of and reasonably secure but can still be improved upon.
Managing remote access to applications for employees is vital to mitigate cyber attacks and hacks. Some users will require special opening software for niche apps such as computer aided design and the software required will generally dictate how the user accesses it. By using the correct control methods, workers will be able to have the access they need to continue to work efficiently.
Controlling the way that company data is accessed by people working on their home machines is vital to remote working cybersecurity. Where in the past, workers may have been tempted to take work home with them at the end of a day in the office by emailing a report or document to their personal email account, this was clearly not a viable or desirable mechanism because it would have left the data in the document unprotected straight away. Today, we can give the right tools to employees so that they don’t have to resort to emailing themselves anymore. With three main options available to suit most office setups, there is no excuse for allowing company data leakage. It is simply about training and education and putting the right systems in place so that bad situations are avoided in the first place.
VPN – A Virtual Private Network allows secure remote connection to a corporate network; in other words, a point to point connection to the office. This means that employees are able to access files and data on a company server from their company device without the temptation to use personal email accounts. With VPNs, it is advisable to be wary of allowing untrusted devices to have access to the corporate network. Patches and software should be kept up to date to avoid punching a hole in the security. All work apps will also need to be installed onto the machine but this does have validity if used correctly and fits the business model.
RDS – Remote Desktop Services involve manipulating an internally held “virtual desktop” from outside and this system has a significantly higher level of control of data because it doesn‘t leave the data centre, it just allows people to connect in. In general, the health of the remote devices using the RDS is immaterial; home machines may be infected with viruses or malware but it’s not necessary to worry about people connecting to the corporate network from their own devices because everything is installed in the RDS and only video and keyboard/mouse commands pass back and forth regardless of how your employees are dialling in or from what device. Companies will also not need to worry about installing software on home machines or data being exposed, meaning that this is one of the best ways to achieve a high level of security and is device agnostic.
MS OneDrive – This is one of a number of cloud storage solutions which come under the umbrella of corporate management. Corporate administrators can enable back ups and put controls and policies in place to safeguard online security. Users generally get 1TB of storage with access to shared company folders. One of the main advantages of this system is that it allows users to access data from any device, home PC or work laptop but within a corporate wrapper with certain restrictions and with additional security and encryption options. Whilst users may be storing files on their own devices, they are encrypted and saved securely. This is a possible solution for companies without Remote Desktop Services or Virtual Private Networks and offers better security as long as it’s used with good antivirus software..
Multi Factor Authentication (MFA)
Passwords are no longer a guarantee of security and another level of protection is now required to be part of a robust cyber security programme. Adding an extra layer of security to your username and password, MFA enables you to offer an additional piece of evidence to prove your identity and is based on something you know (your password) and something you have (a code that has been sent to your mobile phone. There is simply no excuse not to have MFA activated as without it, companies are leaving themselves wide open to be breached.
The future of secure remote working pivots around employers ensuring that their employees are enrolled in ongoing awareness training. They will have greater freedom and flexibility but these come with a personal responsibility for data security and without educating them appropriately can leave the company exposed. As humans, we are the greatest risk – we cut corners, we make mistakes, we take shortcuts. A programme of ongoing security training is vital for a safe and successful approach to homeworking and it should be seen as a mandatory behavioural change, with refresher training included so that it isn’t just a box ticking exercise and then forgotten the next day.
Contact us for more information on how we can help you to keep your company data safe while your employees work from home.