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The Definitive Guide to Secure Remote Working
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There is no unified definition of a Secure Remote Working solution; it comprises the parts required to provide the digital workspace that a business needs to function in today’s geographically and globally dispersed workplace. Different technology vendors will focus on the tools and products that form their specific portfolio, muddying the water when trying to ascertain what tools to deploy for your business. This article explores Secure Remote Working as a concept, and where feasible it avoids vendor-specific language and terminology.
Secure Remote Working provides a safe and protected environment where your staff can access important company and customer data, corporate communications and application tools. Typically, this also means utilising a secure workstation, all from outside the traditional office workspace. A Secure Remote Working solution provides all these functions, protecting your business, employees, and customers from data breaches, malware, ransomware, phishing, whaling, and snooping.
A right Secure Remote Working solution should seamlessly provide these functions, acting as a near-invisible protective blanket. It helps employees work remotely with sensitive company data without trying to circumvent security policies and procedures. It also provides a secure and safe remote working environment, no matter where the employee accesses their work tools.
Secure Remote Working is a combination of multiple technologies and procedures comprising:
The shift towards a cloud-oriented digital workspace will likely see you selecting multiple components from the list above. However, it's important to note that your business may not need all of these tools, or that you may need a more specific solution for providing secure access to your on-premise digital infrastructure. See our guide for an alternative view on Zero Trust Security and how this can help provide secure access to on-premise infrastructure.
With the rise of flexible home and remote working, the requirement to provide remote access to business tools and data has increased. Remote working has been on the rise across specific industry sectors for some time, however, the recent global pandemic has driven home the requirement for remote working across nearly all business sectors.
Employees are now even demanding remote working as part of their working life. In a recent survey conducted by Dimensional Research only 9% of respondents perceive that they will be returning to a solely office-based role, with 58% of those surveyed expecting to work from home more than eight days each month. A recent study by YouGov revealed that 63% of employees would live more remotely from their work if home working were an option. This blending of the office and home environments requires businesses to adapt their remote working practices.
The global pandemic caused by COVID-19 has accelerated this shift. Office-based employees have seen that they can be successful in a home environment, and with this, there is a reluctance to revert to the previous pre-COVID work environment.
It is a legal requirement within the United Kingdom for an employer to provide employees with the ability to request flexible working. In fact, flexible working was important to 87% of the UK workforce in EY's pre-COVID survey. More employees are looking for a flexible working environment and base their decision to work for businesses according to their flexible working policies.
From a YouGov poll, 30% of remote workers reported that working from home can be lonely. It is vital to address the remote aspect of working outside the traditional office environment. Good collaboration tools will bridge the gap between team members, allowing for promoting the bond between the company culture and its employees.
In the October 2020 report conducted by Dimensional Research into The Rise of the Hybrid Workplace, 98% of respondents reported frustration with video meetings when working from home, with the same amount of respondents believing that meetings will involve participants joining from home. The approach needed to be taken by businesses to address the disparate investment in on-premise solutions and create models that can successfully cope with a distributed workforce.
In these post-COVID times, it is evident that all businesses that can provide a flexible working environment should do so, having a plan for remote working helps protect the company from disruptions to service. In the October 2020 Survey by Dimensional Research, 77% of larger organisations seek to increase the levels of flexible working that they offer. Still, businesses with flexible working arrangements for their employees also typically have higher employee retention than the increased job satisfaction of a more stable work and life balance.
Providing remote working ability can also reduce the capital expenditure needed on traditional office spaces, allowing for lower headcounts in offices, reducing expenditure on real estate. In the research conducted by Dimensional Research, 53% of larger organisations plan to downsize their office locations and increase the offerings for flexible or remote working. Even in companies of 250 – 1000 staff (the average company size in the UK), 34% of respondents expect to reduce office size, with 55% expecting an increase in flexible working practices.
For those looking to retain office working, employees are looking for a safer working environment with 95% of respondents to the Dimensional Research survey saying they feel uncomfortable returning to an office environment. Businesses will require better sanitisation, reduced desk sharing, and better communication and collaboration tools.
With all the benefits, it also essential to realise the complications of remote working. Traditionally employees would access their corporate tools from the safety of the inside of the corporate network. It is essential to find a way to extend security to the home, and other work environments such as coffee shops, park, or hotels. Or, indeed, any areas where the traditional control over the internet provided to the employee is not controlled by the corporate security team. Failing to do so can expose the business to data breaches, either unintentionally or maliciously, which in the current global privacy environment can severely erode and damage the trust between companies and their customers, and impacting revenue from sales or costly fines. It is far easier and cheaper to address the issues up front than to rectify them later.
Achieving a Secure Remote Working environment can seem like a daunting task. Still, it's essential to step back and look at the tools and data your employees need to do their jobs successfully and then understand how to securely provide these resources so that it doesn't matter where or how the employee accesses these tools.
Let us look at the criteria that define a successful Secure Remote Working solution:
Breaking down the solution to component parts helps identify how existing tools can integrate into a complete solution. Any selected technologies must work alongside any current work practices and technology in use by your organisation.
With the rise of flexible and home working, employees will be looking to access their work environment, whilst blending this with their personal life and commitments. Securing employee internet access reduces the vector by which malware and ransomware can enter the corporate environment. Secure DNS and DNS filtering can protect employees from dangerous websites and enforce corporate guidelines for access to risky categories (gambling, file sharing, etc…). VPNs can secure access to corporate tools or secure internet access in situations where network security is not guaranteed. AMP can help reduce the vector of unintentional infection of workstations.
Securing access to data can involve deploying a VPN to access an on-premise resource or implementing SSO and MFA for cloud resources. Utilising a Data Loss Prevention application can help track when sensitive data is removed from a secure workspace.
Company communication tools can include email, instant messaging, and voice and video calling. These tools ensure communication between employees and customers happens securely. Utilising MFA can help ensure that no untrusted third-party can access these tools, and SSO can help with easing logons between applications, reducing employee password fatigue.
Collaboration tools include voice and video conferencing, as well as document and application collaboration. Like communication tools use of SSO and MFA are applicable here, but it's essential to make sure that these conversations are encrypted, especially where they pass over the public internet.
Work applications can include anything your employees use to do their job, whether these are office word processors, file storage, databases, or applications. Utilising MFA and SSO can help ensure that only those who need access to these applications can access them. It extends further to the employee's environment to access these tools, where AMP, VDI, and DNS filtering provide a secure and safe workspace.
The most important category when deploying Secure Remote Working components is that they are seamless to the employee. Use of SSO and MFA helps employees authenticate once to access all their corporate work tools while maintaining a high level of security assurance for the business. Good DNS filtering applications will allow employees to query access to resources and allow the IT Security and Compliance team to tailor access policies easily.
Use of VDI and DLP callow for employees to safely utilise their own devices whilst maintaining a secure environment for corporate and customer data. No matter the approach, it is vital that solution is easy to use, it should not be a burden to the end-users to adopt the platform and components. Failure to encourage user adoption can result in employees trying to circumvent the solution, undermining its effectiveness.
Now we have an idea of what comprises Secure Remote Working and how it can benefit the business and its employees, but what is out there to help you achieve this environment?
There are many ways to approach Secure Remote Working, with different vendors offering components to address the requirements. At Forfusion, we work three major vendors of remote working solutions:
Each vendor can provide whole or part of the solution, depending on your needs. At Forfusion, we are well versed in the capabilities and use cases for each vendor.
Cisco Secure Remote Worker is a security solution for companies and organisations who are looking for a simple, scalable, and integrated solution that delivers the strength and breadth of Cisco's platform approach to protecting your workforce everywhere. The solution comprises:
Cisco also offers a series of additional component tools that can leverage a secure remote working environment with the Webex suite of collaboration applications. Webex includes calling, messaging, and meeting functionality with native support for the Cisco Secure Remote Working solution components.
Cisco Webex is a comprehensive collaboration suite comprising conferencing, voice and video calling, team collaboration and customer services tools, all available from the secure Cisco Webex cloud. Webex is designed from the ground up to provide a secure and scalable collaboration solution, whilst keeping management and monitoring easy. Webex comprises of:
Cisco is the only cloud collaboration provider that also produces its hardware for use with these services. From Cisco IP Phones and Headsets, to Webex Room and Board Series videoconferencing endpoints, and Cisco Unified Border Elements to provide access to the PSTN or on-premise telephony platforms.
Microsoft Secure Remote Work offers a suite of products that address the challenges faced by today's remote workforce. The solution helps customers identify and tick-off the components that comprise a secure remote working environment; these include:
Microsoft also offers the Microsoft 365 suite of collaboration tools to secure communication and collaboration for a dispersed national or global workforce, all with easy integration with Microsoft Cloud Security components.
Microsoft 365 provides a wealth of tools to help teams communicate and collaborate more effectively, all securely hosted within Microsoft Azure. Office 365 provides a customisable suite of tools comprising:
The value proposition of the Microsoft Cloud Security ecosystem increased significantly with the utilisation of Microsoft 365. Every application integrates tightly to provide a seamless solution for Secure Remote Working.
Citrix Secure Remote Access is a comprehensive private virtual network solution that delivers all apps on any device. It allows for the tightening of security with access point for apps and resources. The solution comprises:
Finding a solution from a single vendor to complete the whole of your Secure Remote Working solution is relatively uncommon. A typical organisation will utilise components from multiple vendors; these applications must co-exist with each other. One example is where Cisco networking and hyperconverged infrastructure supports Citrix on-premises VDI workloads and provides onRamp services to Citrix Workspace, Cisco Webex Contact Centre and Microsoft Office 365 (inc. Teams) productivity tools.