Cybersecurity amdist COVID-19 lockdown: Keys to embracing a secure remote workforce

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By Michael Sentonas

Today’s declaration of a global pandemic by the World Health Organization underscores what we are all coming to realize: that the Covid-19 variation of the coronavirus is going to cause a level of social and economic upheaval that is unprecedented in modern times. We are already hearing from our customers that they are facing sudden and profound challenges as they seek ways to quickly support corporate directives for employees to vacate offices and corporate campuses and start working from home. Maintaining security in the face of this global office exodus presents significant risks for most organizations.

Challenges of quickly adopting a remote workforce model
Globally, 50% of employees are working outside of their main headquarters for at least 2.5 days per week, according to the latest International Workplace Group report. However, COVID-19 is challenging more — perhaps all — organizations to potentially embrace a remote work style immediately. Aside from the pressure this office exodus puts on IT teams, network architectures and even equipment suppliers, there are real cybersecurity challenges organizations need to consider.

Six key factors that can help ensure remote worker cybersecurity:

  • Make sure you have a current cybersecurity policy that includes remote working. Strong security policies may already exist, but it is important to review them and ensure they are adequate as your organization transitions to having more people working from home than in an office. Security policies need to include remote working access management, the use of personal devices, and updated data privacy considerations for employee access to documents and other information. It is also important to factor in an increase in the use of shadow IT and cloud technology.
  • Plan for BYOD (bring your own device) devices connecting to your organization. Employees working from home may use personal devices to carry out business functions, especially if they cannot get access to a business-supplied device as supply chains may slow down. Personal devices will need to have the same level of security as a company-owned device, and you will also need to consider the privacy implications of employee-owned devices connecting to a business network.
  • Sensitive data may be accessed through unsafe Wi-Fi networks. Employees working from home may access sensitive business data through home Wi-Fi networks that will not have the same security controls — such as firewalls — used in traditional offices. More connectivity will be happening from remote locations, which will require greater focus on data privacy, and hunting for intrusions from a greater number of entry points.
  • Cybersecurity hygiene and visibility will be critical. It is not unusual for personal devices to have poor cybersecurity hygiene. Employees working from home can result in an organization losing visibility over devices and how they have been configured, patched and even secured.
  • Continued education is crucial, as coronavirus-themed scams escalate. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have already warned about ongoing coronavirus-themed phishing attacks and scam campaigns. Continuous end-user education and communication are extremely important and should include ensuring that remote workers can contact IT quickly for advice. Organizations should also consider employing more stringent email security measures.
  • Crisis management and incident response plans need to be executable by a remote workforce. A cyber incident that occurs when an organization is already operating outside of normal conditions has a greater potential to spiral out of control. Effective remote collaboration tools — including out-of-band conference bridges, messaging platforms and productivity applications — can allow a dispersed team to create a “virtual war room” from which to manage response efforts. If your organization’s plans rely on physical access or flying in technicians for specific tasks (e.g., reimaging or replacing compromised machines), it may be prudent to explore alternate methods or local resources.

The COVID-19 crisis is likely to be with us for a while. Organizations and their employees will be forced to make tough decisions rapidly, and enabling a remote workforce is one of those decisions. There are risks involved in accomplishing this at speed, but the security of your networks, devices and data shouldn’t be among them.

(The author is the Global CTO of CrowdSrike)

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