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With more cases of COVID-19 (the coronavirus) coming to light, many employers have taken the precaution of transitioning and encouraging employees to work from home or remotely. Business operations are not unfamiliar with telecommuting or remote employees. However, with more employees falling into this category than before, network security and capacity are quickly becoming a concern.
In anticipation of the influx of remote employees, businesses and organizations of all sizes have been holding “Remote Test Days.” During these test days, segments of employees are asked to work from home in order to help IT departments address any issues to get up and running, and connected to the corporate network. Many businesses are now expediting preparations as state and local governments advise more and more for people to exercise social distancing sooner rather than later. To prepare, IT departments along with key leadership members need to determine and outline business-critical applications and functions that will need to be accessed outside of the office. For example, teams who generally use phones for a majority of their duties will need an alternative digital or “soft” phone option to continue their daily tasks. Video conferencing may increase productivity while teams are separated, and ensuring that each employee has the access they need to this service will help maintain productivity.
IT teams will also be tasked with hardware and software compatibility tests. Many employees have hardware and software preferences that extend beyond laptops into mobile devices. iOS, Windows, Android, and other software or hardware combinations need to be tested for compatibility and all necessary upgrades, adapters or bridges prior to employees leaving the office for extended periods of time.
There are several ways that IT teams can make sure employees, who may be unfamiliar with network security protocols for remote access, can take precautions to ensure they are securely connecting to the corporate network:
VPN connectivity creates a virtual private network for employees to connect to the corporate network remotely. VPN connectivity provides employees with the same access to their corporate network, including applications such as email, intranets, and corporate tools, within a secure tunnel across the Internet. VPN tunnels can provide the same level of protection against malware, viruses, and other malicious intent using the same firewall policies that protect the corporate network.
There are multiple choices of VPN tunnels available to businesses and organizations. A “Split Tunnel” divides the traffic between business-critical, protected traffic and general Internet browsing. In this case, the business-critical traffic is protected by the same policies enforced on the corporate network while other general Internet traffic is not. A “Full Tunnel” approach protects all Internet traffic so businesses can maintain the same security policy regardless of outbound traffic type, decreasing any chance of vulnerability from remote employee access to the network.
During this time, every employee should remain vigilant about recognizing phishing emails and exercising caution when opening attachments, or clicking on links from sources they don’t know to be trustworthy. Many cyber criminals will take advantage of COVID-19 news and updates and use these email messages to gain unauthorized access to the corporate network. Employees should review email policies and procedures for when a suspicious email comes across their inbox.
Beyond phishing emails, it has come to light that cartographic websites showcasing the spread of COVID-19 are housing malware. Reason Cybersecurity recently released a threat report, confirming websites claiming to provide information about the spread of COVID-19 housed AZORult, an information-stealing malicious software. This software, discovered in 2016, collects information stored in web browsers to access user IDs, passwords, and other personal information.
Working remotely, if not specifically at a home location, can mean cafes and libraries as well. These locations often offer free public WiFi for patrons. These hotspots can be great for those with limited access at home, but employees who take advantage of any public WiFi should have endpoint security enabled on each connected device.
Remaining connected to other employees and team members will be crucial when working remotely. To ensure that communication applications, such as Slack, Google Hangouts, or Microsoft Teams run efficiently and remain secure, activating two-factor authentication adds extra protection. Two-factor authentication uses either SMS text messaging or another verifiable source to ensure that access to an account from a new location or IP address is authorized and secure.
As businesses and organizations take these steps to minimize the spread of COVID-19, telecommuting will be critical to maintaining business continuity. To make this time successful and an easy transition for employees, IT teams will rely heavily on new technologies built for connectivity and security. As we emphasize the importance of personal safety, network security is also important to ensure that as the workforce transitions to remote access, cyber criminals do not take advantage of any new vulnerabilities.
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