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March 16, 2020

Mitigating Risk for a Remote Workforce

Basic steps to protect IP and data

by Joshua Silberman, IT/Cyber Security Consultant, MGO Technology Group

The coronavirus probably has not hit its peak yet, but every facet of daily life has already been affected. Many companies are actively reaching out to their customers to ensure operations will continue under the best of circumstances and as government regulations allow. For many companies this means supporting a widely spread remote worforce.

As we are already in the midst of this crisis, the chance for your firm to proactively prepare for disrupted operations has passed, but this does not mean there is nothing that can be done. Thanks to the plethora of cloud-based processing options, it is still possible to fully secure resources for the majority of your staff to work remotely. It may be more expensive right now, but that is still a better alternative than shuttering operations entirely. For companies that have already gone remote, you have probably deployed your remote desktop connections, trained your staff on remote conferencing options, and made sure your phone data plans are paid up for any type of mobile device solution you choose to use. Now that these features are fully deployed, this is a great time to review them for potential cybersecurity risk factors.

As is the case with on premise work, cybersecurity has no ‘one size fits all’ solution for remote environments. Each company is going to be different and will require its own strategy to mitigate risk. However, there are some basic steps companies can take to ensure that their cyber risk is limited as much as possible during this time of remote work.

Risks of Relying on Public Internet

The single largest risk factor for remote work is the public internet that is being used by your staff to access your company data, but there are some simple steps you can take to mitigate risk from the largely unsecured public internet.

First and foremost is the securing and monitoring of all connections into your infrastructure. Think of all connections to your data, from any location, as a phone call. A device calls into the physical location of your data to access it, process it, and possibly transfer it to another location, much as you would see with a phone call or fax machine. The key is to identify the various points from which these devices can ‘call into’ your physical infrastructure and then limit the number of devices that can actually make this call. Identifying and securing the remote access points of your company data or network infrastructure is most likely the easier of the these two tasks as in most circumstances you should have near full control over the physical space in which your data storage device resides.

Establishing a Secure Infrastructure

From here, the simplest and most effective means of protection is to erect a firewall to keep out unauthorized calls. Step two is to do as much as you can to secure the connections that you want to allow through the firewall. The simplest means to accomplish this is through a Virtual Private Network (VPN) that will not only provide verification of the authorized connections past your firewall, but will also create a secure tunnel by which the call into your data can travel.

The VPN will compensate for most security provisions your staff’s at home internet might or might not have. From there, you will need to look carefully at which devices you actually will allow in through your firewall. It would be prudent to direct your technical team or IT Vendor to create a list of approved devices that is as small as possible. You should limit approved devices to company issued laptops and mobile handsets. You can expand this list to employee owned devices, but this should only be done with the advent of a Mobile Device Manager (MDM) solution. While a VPN will compensate for an insecure connection, an MDM will compensate for the lack of cybersecurity protection an employee owned device may or may not have. At this point, you might be asking, where can I find VPNs, MDMs, etc. Thankfully there are plenty of businesses on the open market that have these tools, and even technical staff, setup and ready to deploy and are just waiting for a company like yours to engage them for assistance. By employing these two relatively simple steps, your company can create remote work infrastructure that will significantly cut down on the risks of employees working from home over the open internet.

Vigilant infrastructure maintenance

Now that we have looked at what infrastructure should be put in place, we next need to look at how to properly maintain the infrastructure. As with the technical tools listed above, the market has plenty of Managed Service Providers (MSPs), such as MGO Technology Group, that are ready to engage and provide you with the technical staff and tools your company will need to effectively continue operations during this crisis. Make no mistake about it, your remote work environment is going to require some form of troubleshooting, either in the form of equipment malfunction or staff training on how to properly use the tools mentioned above. This is where having a good level one (L1) IT support staff comes into play in your cybersecurity strategy. In order to properly mitigate the risks of data breach or leakage, your staff will need to correctly use the tools you have put into place. Never underestimate how far a well-trained and well-equipped IT support staff can go in correcting the human errors not caught by your VPNs, Firewalls, and MDMs.

Access professional guidance

In order to weather this crisis or any over further disruption your company might experience, you are going to need good equipment and knowledgeable people to install and maintain this equipment. Finding, maintaining, and retaining the equipment and staff can be a difficult and time consuming endeavor. As mentioned above, you may want to consider engaging with technical MSPs who have the training and resources in order to install and maintain the infrastructure your company will need to not only allow your employees to work from home, but to also switch back to working on premise as soon as the situation improves.

For more guidance or to schedule a consultation, contact us here.

Tagged:
remote work
cyber security
coronavirus
COVID-19
cyber risk