The sharp and sizeable increase in employees working from home caused by the pandemic has placed networks under greater pressure than ever before and has inevitably led to heightened cybersecurity risks. The National Cyber Security Centre reported how malicious actors are increasingly exploiting vulnerabilities in VPNs and other remote working tools – not to mention that more UK government branded scams relating to COVID-19 have been detected than any other subject.
Now, as companies plan for a return to the office and adjust business practices to accommodate a fluid workforce, they must keep cyber-risks front of mind. Resilience sits at the heart of security and there is a need for organisations’ architecture, processes and strategies to be more impervious in order to continue to ensure protection. Complete visibility into the network is the only way IT and security teams can achieve this; discovering exactly what their environment looks like and reaping the benefits of faster threat detection and response, fewer blind spots and a clear view of all data-in-motion – both encrypted and unencrypted.
New tomorrow, new challenges
IT teams are under unprecedented pressure, bombarded with support requests from users striving to maintain productivity at home or smoothly transition back to the office. Plus, with some workers using their own devices and connecting to company networks using personal WiFi connections or mobile data, attack surfaces have inevitably expanded and vulnerabilities exacerbated. That’s why, in order to safeguard these newly exposed environments and manage their increased workloads, IT and security pros need unobstructed visibility. Employees working remotely have caused traffic to move from LAN to WAN and north-south traffic to grow, so IT and security must be able to inspect encrypted and unencrypted data to ensure awareness of any and all potential risks. IT leaders should consider threat detection tools that are simple to deploy and quick to unlock security advantages. For example, a clear view of ingress and egress links, behind VPN concentrators, would empower Infosec teams to easily alleviate any threats that might arise from remote working
Supporting a fluid workforce with budget uncertainty, if not outright budget reduction, is no easy feat. It is possible, however, by working with optimisation in mind: by removing duplicate traffic, filtering out low-risk application data and redeploying shelved or under-utilised tools, companies can increase their security capabilities by up to 70%. Due to the constantly unfolding situation, companies must always be ready to swiftly adapt their priorities and security tactics, so agility is fundamental. Crucially, by implementing innovative solutions and streamlining repetitive jobs, those defending hybrid networks against cyberattacks will have more time and headspace to drive better security outcomes and greater remote control, as physical access continues to be a challenge.
The value of a Zero Trust approach
As many return to their offices or embrace a more fluid way of working, the vulnerabilities revealed by the WFH shift are still present, perhaps more prominently. “Work anywhere, work anytime” is becoming the norm, so network perimeters – already blurred by an increasingly complex infrastructure – are now almost impossible to define. Because of this, assuming that devices inside the perimeter – or more appropriately under an organisation’s administrative control – are secure is not a viable option. If implicit trust is no longer safe, then a Zero Trust (ZT) approach can help ensure protection in a period of uncertainty. Unsurprisingly, 67% of organisations that have not started their ZT journey reportedly plan to do so this year.
ZT is about placing no trust in any element on the network and scrupulously determining privileges based on observed behaviour before authorising access. This can only be enabled with thorough visibility into the network – you can’t monitor and regulate what you can’t see. Sadly, there isn’t a solution that businesses can simply purchase and deploy to adopt this security strategy. ZT isn’t a product, it’s a mindset, enabled by uncompromised visibility, which must transpire in all security practices in order to be effective. It won’t happen overnight but, given the current situation, it’s fundamental that businesses unify and enhance their security efforts to safeguard their remote workforce.
While they grapple with how to optimise costs and maintain productivity at an economically testing time, IT teams also fight another battle: defending increasingly vulnerable networks, sheltering remote employees from growing cyberthreats and, ultimately, safeguarding their organisations. Keeping up with changing circumstances and ever-morphing threats isn’t easy. However, with a targeted approach to driving network visibility, aided by modern tools and a Zero Trust architecture, IT and security workers are well equipped to overcome these challenges and emerge stronger.
By Ollie Sheridan, Security Principal at Gigamon