Remote Work Increasing Calls for Improved Security Validation

Zoe King

COVID-19 has changed the world. With social distancing measures ruling everyday life in most countries, the way we used to live, learn, interact, and work has been visibly altered. One of the areas that have been impacted the most is labor. The pandemic demanded some of the most notable changes in how organizations manage their workforce.

As a result, the old way of doing business, managing the workforce, and working together is no longer possible.

This has forced many organizations — small and large — to opt for remote work policies. These efforts seek to encourage and support physical distancing measures and to comply with government regulations. After seeing the benefits of working remotely and reckoning with the fact that the pandemic may continue affecting their business model for some time, many organizations are considering some form of remote work for the long-term.

For instance, Atlassian — the Australian tech giant behind Bitbucket and Trello — announced in August 2020 that its employees can either work from home, return to the office, or do a combination of both per their preference after the pandemic. The news came after similar decisions from Facebook and Twitter. Both had earlier announced that employees can work from home permanently if they choose.

Several other companies have followed suit ever since. This includes Automattic (the company behind Gravatar and WordPress), GitLab (a well-known alternative to GitHub and Bitbucket), and Zapier.

Remote Work and Cybersecurity Risks

Although there are many benefits associated with working remotely, the concept has its downside, too. For a start, it could affect the productivity of the workforce. This especially a concern given that workers are mostly not monitored when working from home.

However, the greater disadvantage lies in the security of the organization. As remote work policies are growing among organizations, the risk of cyber-attacks is on the rise. Remote work introduces new and worse cybersecurity threats to organizations as well as individuals.

This is due to the organization adopting cloud infrastructure. Additionally, employees are using home networks and personal devices for work, as more people are relying on third-party services and tools.

The recent increase in social engineering attacks based on the stimulus bill and many financial compensation schemes related to COVID-19 has made it even worse.

In fact, in a recent blog post, the World Health Organization wrote:

Hackers and cyber scammers are taking advantage of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic by sending fraudulent email and WhatsApp messages that attempt to trick you into clicking on malicious links or opening attachments. These actions can reveal your user name and password, which can be used to steal money or sensitive information. If you are contacted by a person or organization that appears to be WHO, verify their authenticity before responding”.

Since there is a sharp growth in organizations and individuals adopting and relying on cloud-based and third-party platforms for their remote work needs, there is an increased risk due to the expanded attack surface. After all, an attacker only needs one email click from a device connected to the corporate network to gain access and compromise the entire network.

The Importance of Security Validation

How can your organization secure itself against this increased risk?

The first step is that your security team must understand the growing cybersecurity risks involved in managing a remote work environment. For this to happen, security teams require data on the performance of their security infrastructure. However, this is hardly achievable without using security validation techniques.

Security validation allows an organization to validate the effectiveness of its cybersecurity controls against potential security threats. Organizations test threats in their environment safely and get quantifiable evidence — not just mere conjecture — of whether such threats are prevented.

Without security validation techniques providing data-driven evidence on the organizations’ security infrastructure, organizations work on mere assumptions. Therefore, security validation becomes a critical part of an organization’s security toolset. It helps executives and security teams understand the increased business risks and adapt their security defenses as required.

With security validation, your organization can easily do the following:

1. Extend the Security Controls to a Remote Workforce.

With the majority of the workforce working from home, the risks are drastically increased for every organization. Security validation helps reduce them in the following ways:

  • Validate controls: Security validation of all in-place controls — access, monitoring, and visibility — is necessary for reducing cyber risks. It helps continuously test the performance of the security controls for their ability to protect the assets during a cyber attack.
  • Validate segmentation: Security validation of network segmentation helps control the lateral movement of attackers. It also helps avoid large-scale network attacks if hackers gain access to the corporate network.
  • Test environment change: Security validation helps test the changes required for remote systems to stay protected by keeping them updated and tracking their source IP addresses to detect potential attacks.

2. Understanding the business risks due to remote work.

With employees working remotely, their personal devices and wireless networks connected to the corporate network become new entry points for attackers. Security validation gives intelligent insights to organizations to help them understand the risks. Additionally, these insights inform which cyber defense upgrades are best for said company. Some of the methods of protecting assets include:

  • Unauthorized device access: Remote work environments may introduce personal or unmanaged devices. Validating device signatures and controls and updating before connecting to the corporate network lowers the risk. Therefore, remote device compliance or policy should be implemented.
  • Split vs. full tunnel security: Remote working increases the use of VPN, which may ask for split tunneling for minimizing bandwidth costs. However, it may result in bypassing the visibility and protection of network controls like Data Loss Prevention (DLP) and Managed File Transfer (MFT).
  • Phishing or spear-phishing: Working in remote environments, employees are more prone to phishing and spear-phishing attacks. A company should provide regular training. Additionally, security teams must implement security measures to filter phishing emails and test employees’ awareness.

Conclusion

The bottom line is that the introduction of remote work policies comes with increased cybersecurity risks for organizations.

However, using a security validation platform, security teams can perform continuous testing and validation of the security infrastructure and gain meaningful insights into the installed security controls. It helps organizations and their top executives take the necessary steps to safeguard their organization’s and customers’ data.

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