Navigating the complexities of third-party remote access

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No modern digital business is totally independent. Cloud computing and ever-changing IT technology force organizations to rely on third parties. And most digital companies cannot exist without a community of trusted partners.

Companies look to third-party vendors when sourcing the latest applications and infrastructure. Third-party service providers support cloud deployments. External partners cut administration costs. And they even secure company networks. However, third-party remote access brings problems as well as benefits.

Partners need to access your corporate network. And external access brings security risks. Companies can control how their employees use network assets. Yet, enforcing the same standards for workers at third parties is not easy.

This article will explain how to secure third-party access. We will explore how businesses can create secure platforms with robust access controls. And we will help you navigate the design process to ensure seamless and safe third-party relationships.

What is third-party remote access?

Third-party remote access enables secure remote access for users not directly employed by the network owner. Third-party network users come in various forms.

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  • Contractors provide specific services on a contractual basis. Companies bring in contractors as needed to maintain systems, audit security controls, or fill gaps in their workforce. These individuals may work on-site. But they could also be remote contractors.

  • Vendors supply companies with applications needed to create professional environments. They sell cloud infrastructure and storage space. And they provide hardware to engineer physical networks. Vendors are almost always based off-site and may have minimal contact with clients. But they often need network access to provide services.

Securing third-party connections requires comprehensive risk management strategies. Companies should never allow unrestricted network access for vendors or service providers, regardless of how trusted they are.

Third parties dramatically increase the attack surface of corporate networks. For example, risks associated with external partners include:

Insider threats

Employees at third-party organizations may use legitimate credentials to breach networks. They can steal confidential data, implant malware, or compromise system integrity.

Implementing Workforce Identity and Access Management is key to mitigating such risks by closely controlling and monitoring access permissions, even for those within the organization.

Malware attacks 

Any remote connection can become a gateway for a ransomware attack. Companies must monitor every access request and ensure that firewalls cover third parties.

System failure 

Companies rely on third parties to support everyday operations. When these services fail, they can compromise client networks.

Regulatory risks 

Regulations include strict rules about using third-party providers. A data breach due to poor third-party security can lead to regulatory penalties and reputational damage.

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The growing need for external network access

Third parties are a crucial part of the modern business landscape. Few organizations own and operate their network infrastructure. Even fewer develop apps in-house. Using third parties is a business necessity. Cloud service providers are filling that need.

Companies worldwide depend on cloud hosting for data storage and employee collaboration. The public cloud computing market has expanded rapidly from $145 billion in 2017 to almost $600 billion in 2023. And there are plenty of reasons for this shift.

Cloud services make managing workflows cheaper and leaner. Third parties allow companies to switch from legacy apps to flexible cloud tools hosted off-site. Local data centers are unnecessary. Maintenance costs fall as companies become less reliant on physical network infrastructure.

Digital transformations also enable companies to serve their customers more efficiently. For example, merchants use third-party technology to create seamless digital purchasing systems. Or they may use a 3D modeling vendor to deliver augmented reality experiences.

The rush to cloud-hosted services is impossible without remote access for third parties. External partners routinely access client assets to support corporate accounting. Or they might deliver customized eCommerce APIs.

This reliance is not unusual. However, without robust security solutions, third parties represent a data breach risk. Securing access for third parties is a critical security challenge.

Risk management in vendor network entry

Organizations need solid strategies to handle third-party risks. Companies managing remote access for third-party risks must focus on hazard control and mitigating threats.

Hazard control

Security teams identify the risks linked to each vendor. A typical example is data breaches caused by insider attacks. Risk assessors might identify a risk of credential theft due to poor security practices. Alternatively, they might decide that third-party API risks like code injection are more significant.

The consequences of third-party services failing is another critical example. Not every vendor poses an operational risk. However, security planners must identify relevant operational risks.

Threat mitigation

After identifying and classifying risks, security teams apply controls or policies to mitigate those risks. Controls must manage third-party access efficiently. They should also protect data against bad actors. Finding the right balance is challenging.

Companies must create and test incident recovery strategies. Recovery plans should mitigate operational risks from third-party failures. Auditing processes constantly test vendor security. Audits identify new risks before they compromise network security.

Secure your infrastructure: the role of network access control

Access control is the most crucial risk mitigation system when handling third-party hazards. Access controls lock down the network edge. They filter third-party access requests. And they enforce authentication and authorization policies.

Properly designed access control systems allow third parties enough access to carry out core duties. However, they limit network access beyond the assets required to carry out those duties.

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Access controls vary depending on the organization involved and the type of third party. But they tend to have similar core components. These components include:

Entry regulation or authentication

Authentication systems demand a third-party vendor's credentials for each access request. For instance, multi-factor authentication (MFA) demands more than one unique identifier for each user. Authentication combines with firewalls and allowlisting. These tools filter unknown users, adding another defensive line to the network edge.

Permission management

Access management systems assign each third-party vendor the permissions needed to execute their duties. Users cannot access network assets outside the scope of the access policy. Tightly defined privileges limit east-west movement inside the network.

Authorization control

Controls track vendor activity. They determine whether third parties can access network objects. Systems collect data about user access requests and the activities of every third-party vendor. This data is stored in a standardized format, enabling access during management audits.

The three components listed above work in combination. They assess third parties before allowing access. Security systems screen malicious threats and block cyber-attacks at the network edge.

How can you ensure secure network access for third parties?

Organizations need to work with third parties. There is no alternative in a cloud-dominated business landscape. The question is how to create secure network access for every vendor.

The answer lies in a mixture of security technologies and administrative measures. On the security side, essential controls include:

  • IP address allowlisting — enforces lists of approved identities. Filters check IP information when users make connection requests. Users can create grouped filters for approved vendors. You can easily add new contractors and automate the removal of third parties when vendor partnerships end.

  • Network Access Control (NAC) – NAC enforces security policies to admit or exclude network users. Controls check device health and user location. They can also check IP address data and user credentials. Network segmentation also falls under NAC. Users who comply with pre-set conditions can access the network environment.

  • Identity and Access Management (IAM) – Access management systems grant users role-based privileges. Security teams can define resources available for each identity. They can use filters to block all other network assets. When third-party security breaches occur, intruders will have limited scope to access data and apps.

  • Access Keys - These tools allow safe access to cloud platforms like Amazon Web Services. When partners log on, they use a unique access key. Network managers do not need to share their AWS or Google credentials. This reduces the chance of allowing unauthorized access to general network assets.

  • Data Loss Prevention (DLP) - protects sensitive data against unauthorized third-party access. DLP enforces data security policies. It tracks data movements and prevents data extraction without appropriate credentials.

  • Firewalls – Firewalls filter incoming and outgoing traffic. They work alongside IP allowlisting, preventing unauthorized access. You can segment data environments and apply cloud-native firewalls around financial or customer information.

Organizations must also implement administrative safeguards to handle third-party risks.

  • Vendor risk assessments - Companies should carry out risk assessments before commissioning third-party services. IT teams should check the compliance records of potential partners. They should verify that third parties take security seriously.

  • Contract management - Contracts should include clauses related to cybersecurity and data protection. Agreements should state the security responsibilities of the third party. Companies should monitor contracts constantly to detect any policy breaches.

  • Security policy management - Security policies should cover third-party access risks. Comprehensive policies should guide the behavior of third parties. Regularly audit these policies to ensure their effectiveness.

Best practices for vendor remote access control

Companies must secure every third-party connection. If not, data breaches and regulatory penalties will result. However, securing third-party access is complex. And organizations routinely work with hundreds of external partners. So, simplifying the security challenge is critical.

With the correct steps, you can control access safely. And you can do so without compromising the efficiency of vendor-supplied solutions. These best practices will help you achieve complete security.

1. Implement strict access controls

Treat all third-party connections as a potential risk. Assess what resources the third-party needs to carry out their role. Only allow access to those resources. Use Access Management solutions, firewalls, and allowlisting to block everything else.

2. Risk assess all vendors and contractors

Carry out a risk assessment before installing third-party tools or onboarding contractors. Determine how third parties could compromise data and applications. Put in place risk control measures to mitigate those risks.

3. Create secure zones with network segmentation

Some third-party solutions create significant risks but still have a business benefit. In these cases, it makes sense to use network segmentation.

Segmentation creates safe zones guarded by cloud firewalls and access controls. Safe zones act like a containment strategy, protecting the rest of the network.

4. Proactively monitor third-party connections

Continuously monitor third-party connections to detect suspicious behavior or potential cyber-attacks. Use threat detection tools to detect malware or unusual access patterns. But don't avoid being reactive. Employ proactive NAC tools that block third parties that fail to meet security conditions.

5. Write clear security policies for vendors and internal staff

Provide all third parties with security policies during the onboarding process. Policies should explain the partner’s security responsibilities and penalties for policy breaches. They should detail user permissions and access requirements. They should also document data protection rules.

Security policies should also cover internal employees. Explain how to access third-party network assets securely. And provide training to reinforce safe data handling processes.

6. Provide secure connection tools

Provide secure VPN access for third parties. VPNs encrypt connections and anonymize IP addresses. Secure gateways operate access policies for each third party. Encrypted tunnels separate third-party traffic from the wider internet. Business network managers can control each remote connection.

7. Audit third-party access to ensure security

Regularly audit third-party access. Audits should check that access controls are functioning as designed. Check that third-party privileges are appropriate and that segmentation protects critical data. And routinely check for third-party suppliers that have escaped security controls.

Conclusion: make third-party access secure and smooth

Working with third parties is an unavoidable aspect of modern business. Reliance on third parties is never risk-free. But secure vendor onboarding is always possible. You just need the right tools and security expertise.

NordLayer's access solutions can secure every third-party vendor relationship.

  • IP Allowlisting admits trusted identities and excludes unknown users.

  • NAC tools assess users at the network edge. Only approved devices and identities can enter the network perimeter.

  • Secure gateways create encrypted tunnels for remote third-party connections.

  • Network segmentation systems implement role-based permissions. Authorized partners can access the resources they need. But everything else remains out of their scope.

  • Enhanced identity verification allows to check a user’s identity with identity management features like MFA and biometrics. 

Securing third-party access can be confusing. But NordLayer's secure access controls help you neutralize critical risks. Get in touch with the NordLayer team today. We'll find a solution that works for you and your external partners.

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