Securing the borderless office

Network Middle East, in association with Microsoft, explores how organisations can secure the borderless office - empowering the remote workforce to stay secure

Digital workforce, Data security, Work from home, Borderless office, Cloud, Digital security, Cybersecurity, Asset management, Microsoft, Microsoft Teams

The current business landscape consists of an intelligent, digital workforce that is both innovative and competitive. It enjoys flexibility while ensuring better productivity and an appropriate work-life balance. Staff flexibility also benefits the employers that can bring together the best talent irrespective of their geographical restrictions. Understandably, this mobile staff is reliant upon access to the corporate data remotely, anytime, anywhere.

The borderless, telecommuting workforce which can be cost-effective for the business comes with a downside to it. It allows sensitive data to be shared across a myriad of devices, often with questionable security arrangements.

A worrying reality is that outside the formal office, data security practices tend to be forgotten as employees access company data from offsite locations. Not to mention the use of public Wi-Fi, removable media, potential loss or theft of devices and data, and absence of backup and restore solutions that may all culminate into creating security challenges unique to managing a mobile workforce.

Asset management

The quality of asset management will always influence the overall productivity and efficiency of a borderless business with remote teams. All IT assets such as software and sensitive data need to be protected from threats, but asset management is more manageable in the confined workspace. With data moving across a global network of devices, this task becomes much more challenging.

The most promising solution would be a cloud-based IT management platform that would enable the remote employees to work on personal devices while staying connected to their office security network. Using a cloud management suite will connect, monitor and secure assets in the cloud without compromising on security regulations.

Data security

The expansion of the territory of work has given a new meaning to security in the workplace. However, mobile access security is not a new challenge. Employers have long since adopted bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies, which means that several security measures must already be in place to deal with the potential threats of mixing personal and work data. Further, access needs and practices are changing among all workers, not just remote employees.

Today’s security landscape has increased in complexity as data is frequently moving outside the confines of the office. When working remotely, employees often use a mix of personal devices and unsecured public Wi-Fi networks that can expose sensitive data to risks.

With no defined physical or electronic layers of security, it is fair to say that the demands of the remote office are similar to those of the traditional one, demanding a proactive approach to security rather than a reactive one. The good news is that there are multiple ways to accomplish this.

In remote environments, data security must be dealt with as a top priority that begins with increasing awareness about security, possible risks and preventive best practices. Issuing company devices is one way to minimise risk, as it ensures corporate data remains separate. Better still, organisations can help employees secure their remote devices with authorised antivirus and security software.

To increase security when connecting to company networks, employers can establish a Virtual Private Network or VPN connection for remote work. This will offer end-to-end data encryption and shield IP addresses, thereby reducing the vulnerabilities associated with public Wi-Fi networks. Since these networks don’t compromise employee privacy or restrict where remote employees can work, it proves beneficial for both parties. Another option can be the use of geolocation which restricts the places from which company networks can be accessed.

Firewalls are another tool that helps in data protection, acting as a checkpoint for flagging packets of information. Firewalls are generally helpful to companies that have hundreds of employees using hundreds of computers.

Remote security can also be enhanced by using web-based cloud solutions so that the data is not stored on a device but is saved online and is encrypted.

Mobile device management (MDM) apps present an alternative, allowing companies to create gated access to data and perform remote locks or wipes if devices are lost or stolen. Enforcing strict password policies and educating employees on the need to secure their laptops would certainly go a long way in safeguarding the organisation’s assets without compromising on flexibility, availability and accessibility.

Needless to say, organisations must define some security standards and policies that all remote workers should follow without exception.

Backup and recovery

A company may employ robust security measures and have vigilant remote employees, however, accidental data loss can always occur. This is another eventuality that IT teams must be prepared for since remote employees often do not have adequate backup and recovery options.

The challenge is more pronounced when personal devices are used for work and recovery of any accidental loss of data is dependent upon how meticulous an employee is in the regular backup of their data.

Fortunately, cloud backup solutions offer the much-needed respite and adequately cover all backup and recovery needs of the mobile workforce.

Training and education

The numerous benefits of going remote are challenged by serious risks that still come with this trend. It is, therefore, essential to tackle the lack of understanding of the severity of common security risks and impart professional guidance to prevent them.

Sometimes, there is a disconnect between understanding the importance of security and the ability to implement critical security measures. When dealing with remote teams, lack of face-to-face communication can be a problem, especially when conveying highly sensitive issues such as the business’ basic security guidelines.

In such a scenario, video conferencing is the most appropriate solution that not only keeps the teams connected but also helps IT teams emphasise the criticality of the message to be delivered.

Regular training and education programmes informing all employees of security best practices will also help in bridging this gap. With the right knowledge, tools and mindset, the remote workforce will not fall prey to cyber attacks outside.

While there are some free solutions available in the market, a more holistic video conferencing solution would be one that includes features such as conversation recordings or integration with calendar apps.

The workplace today is without defined borders where workers are using VPN connections and rely on cloud-based apps and data. There are many facets to digital security, and IT personnel need to address all of them to secure their workforce, remote or otherwise.

Security does not begin or end with the device or data. It extends to the people within the company, particularly the way everyone communicates with each other when it comes to handling valuable information.

By focussing on digital security, businesses can support a remote workforce in securing their identity, assets and technology in the online and mobile world, while maintaining secure network access for all employees.

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