Coronavirus: Network and Cybersecurity Considerations for Working Remotely

Posted: March 17, 2020

The world is struggling to respond to and contain the coronavirus—or COVID-19—pandemic. Nations and many of the states in the U.S. have put restrictions in place to preemptively quarantine individuals and proactively enforce social distancing in an effort to slow the spread of the infection. As a result, conferences and events have been canceled, most professional sports seasons have been suspended or delayed. As companies implement mandatory work-from-home policies for any and all employees who can work remotely to reduce interaction and limit the potential for exposure, there are a few key considerations to keep in mind.

Addressing Network Capacity

Most IT teams have architected and implemented network resources based on the scenario where most employees are working from an established office, along with some capability for connecting securely from remote locations via VPN (virtual private network) when necessary. Few, if any, organizations have planned for a scenario where the entire workforce is remote and trying to access and use network resources over a VPN connection simultaneously.

Here are some recommendations and best practices to make sure you have the network capacity and IT equipment necessary to handle the volume of remote workers during the coronavirus response:

  • The top priority is to ensure you have adequate internet circuit capacity at the head end
  • Make sure you have enough VPN licenses and that your VPN can handle the volume of concurrent connections
  • Get an internet pipe from the primary local internet provider so you don’t have to traverse off the local network for the majority of your employees who are probably using that particular internet provider
  • Ensure you have enough laptops available for all remote workers

VPN and VDI Cybersecurity Concerns

The whole point of a VPN is to provide a secure, encrypted pipe between the company network and remote endpoints—typically over the public internet. It’s important, though, to make sure the VPN itself is secure. VDI (virtual desktop interface) can be used for employees that need to connect from a home PC, but VDI also has some security concerns.

  • Ensure that the VPN concentrator is fully patched and updated. There have been numerous VPN-related security vulnerabilities in the last few years, but IT teams often forget or don’t get around to updating the VPN
  • Everyone who needs to access the VDI needs MFA (multifactor authentication). Whether you use tokens or SMS or some other method, MFA is crucial for security for VDI
  • Many organizations have some form of MFA available, but it is generally issued on an as-needed basis for specific roles. Make sure you have the MFA devices or capacity for the spike in demand that will occur during a temporary work-from-home scenario
  • For users connecting from untrusted assets like a home PC, you should have policies in place and enforced to disable cut, copy, paste, and printing capabilities and limit the assets that can be accessed from the home PC

Bad Guys See Opportunity in Crisis

In general, this is a prime time for bad guys to take advantage of the chaos. While most of the world acts in solidarity to try and contain coronavirus and do everything possible to help those who have already been infected, cybercriminals see it as an opportunity to exploit. Even while your organization is on coronavirus lockdown, it’s important for your IT security and IT operations teams to be able to do their jobs remotely as well.

  • Ensure SOC (security operations center) and other security analysts are able to connect to necessary systems to monitor for and respond to security incidents
  • IT security and IT operations teams should take advantage of SaaS (software-as-a-service) or cloud-enabled capabilities of the products they use
  • Using services from IaaS (infrastructure-as-a-service) providers—like the VDI discussed above—can provide quick wins for remote work

This Too Shall Pass

There will be hiccups. There are always informal business processes and shadow IT issues at play that will be disrupted as people are forced to work remotely and not interact face-to-face. Things will come up that you haven’t yet considered. It’s important to recognize them and document them—both so they can be addressed for normal day-to-day operations, and so you can be better prepared for any future crises or catastrophes that might demand everyone work from home.

While nations and companies are taking extreme measures to help contain the spread of coronavirus, it won’t be like this forever. There are some hurdles to address in terms of logistics, infrastructure, and process to transition quickly to a complete work-from-home model, but with the technology we have available today it can be done.

Follow these tips to stay productive and secure—and remember to wash your hands!