NordLayer - Network Security

Hybrid work security: challenges & best practices


By NordLayer
18 Jan 2022
8 min read
Man communicating with his remote team

The remote workforce was a mostly pandemic-induced necessity, which didn’t last long to prove its convenience. First started as a demand to secure business continuity by all possible tasks transferring to remote employees’ homes, today remote work evolved not just as a precaution from time to time still ‘couch-surfing’ on just another wave of the pandemic. The hybrid working model has brought dynamics to a desk-pinned office giving hybrid work environments more flexibility to manage a company workforce and expand possibilities of human resources and skilled talents from all over the world.

Remote work pioneered the establishment of hybrid work policies from small businesses to large enterprises, allowing employees to work from anywhere, enabling employers to downgrade the number of static workplaces in the office, saving all parties a significant part of the time and financial resources.

Even though remote work is gaining a positive meaning and is a modern approach for a virtual office, it still carries the weight of challenges related to security, privacy, and business protection issues. According to Microsoft Digital Defense Report, cybercriminals perform a significant number of ransomware, malware, or phishing attacks. The latter covers up to 70% of enterprise-related security breaches, which showcases only a small part of the infrastructure vulnerability.

Challenges of hybrid work environment

Employees working in the office

Before a hybrid work model became a new custom in the majority of the corporate routines, companies used to operate solely within their own established on-site infrastructure. It resembles a dome-like environment where company resources, data, and employees function strictly under predefined policies and security requirements supervised by an organization. However, remote work expanded the definition of company perimeter and security measures naturally fractured due to higher exposure to internal and external threats.

As much as in-office employees, remote workers help secure day-to-day business operations and are indispensable company assets, yet adaptation of home-office environments comes with limitations. Organizations cannot independently ensure network and endpoint security with a hybrid workforce in action. A company is also much more reliable in trusting endpoints trying to gain access to company resources as identities or devices can be compromised. 

Moreover, most company perimeters are based on outdated IT infrastructure incapable of keeping up with increasing security needs and supporting ad-hoc requirements of evolving businesses. Lack of preparation opens doors for hostile actors that often result in data leaks or even financial and reputational losses rising every year.

Loss of sensitive data

Data breach problem is one of the most concerning security threats despite the size and market of an organization as it may affect business, employees, and most importantly — users and customers of the company.

Impressive numbers collected by Acronis, a data security vendor, confirm that attackers are always looking for a gap to sneak in. As stated in the report, almost ⅓ of respondents confirmed at least one attack on their organization every month, while around 20% of companies were attacked on a weekly and daily basis.

Security threats get triggered by a simple human error or malicious attempt to access and leak sensitive data. For instance, not working in a dedicated place during working hours but switching workspaces between an office, a coffee shop, and home can lead to undesired events:

  • Even the most trusted employee can forget to switch to a secure network when in public or back to a home office, creating a possibility for others to access company resources.

  • Discussing business-sensitive information or leaving work-related devices unattended in public even for a moment can lead to stolen credentials or potentially sensitive information.

  • Moving with a company laptop/smartphone can end up losing it or getting stolen. Physical attempts to access sensitive data are as realistic as any other cyber threats.

According to a Verizon Data Breach Investigation Report (2021), 85% of breaches relate to a ‘human element’. Companies are responsible for implementing practical solutions how to strengthen the organizational cybersecurity landscape to overcome this.

Remote access for hybrid workforce

The hybrid work model brings another challenge to organizations — how will all remote workers access an enterprise network to perform their daily tasks without putting company data security at risk?

Day-to-day operations require employees to access data and share files, connect to on-site IoT devices, and access another user device in case of need of technical support. However, without efficient upgrades, legacy infrastructure performance and capacity cannot guarantee sufficient business operation continuity. It also puts more workload on admins responsible for ensuring that users within a company network can be trusted to avoid any potential threats, so security measures must increase, too.

An explicit trust in endpoints accessing a company network with a once-granted entry is among the most significant security vulnerabilities. Remote means there is no confidence in how and who someone operates within the network. Manual monitoring of user activities is time-consuming, especially when it takes many users, leading to another human error.

Device security risks

Little knowledge of who sits behind a screen is an issue, yet not a final one. Mobile device management is another security threat category for remote and hybrid work.

There is extended use of applications on laptops, smartphones, and tablets that are highly convenient for employees to access a company network. It also lowers company spending, allowing employees to use their own devices for work needs—however, employees might use work-dedicated devices for personal needs. Extensive device usage increases the exposure level to malware websites, beforehand corrupted devices, or low-security settings on them.

Unfiltered website browsing, potential downloads of viruses, and lack of end-to-end encryption put company data at risk when it’s not managed by IT admins. Disabled user authentication, infrequent updates, and unbacked data are additional factors for data breaches and malicious activities. According to CIRA Cybersecurity Report 2020, ⅔ of company employees use company-issued devices, but 50% of hybrid workforce claim occasional usage of personal devices for work purposes — this highlights the scale of unsupervised and unmanaged access to a company network.

Hybrid work security best practices

Man and woman working remotely from the cafe

Data breach events escalate quickly, so a company must implement the most crucial security measures to protect valuable information. Unprotected devices with unconfirmed users signal the importance of identity management. Insufficient security policies and limitations of on-site legacy perimeter infrastructure cannot ensure the performance quality of a business hybrid workforce, creating a counterproductive environment for IT administrators.

Improving security within corporate networks requires upgrades and solutions dedicated to mitigating security threats, improving efficiency over the whole company infrastructure, and establishing a mindful approach to protecting critical data. To secure hybrid workplaces, we prepared a list of best practices to achieve it.

Secure network with VPN

Hybrid work is about leaving a dedicated company network and accessing resources via public and home-based networks that carry critical security threats. Establishing connectivity via business VPN helps create a secure and hidden network for every employee.

Adopt a Zero Trust network access

Not having people in the office needs alternative approaches to verifying their identity and authenticating access to a company network. ‘Trust none, verify all’ is a mindset based on the zero trust model, implemented via identity authentication to access work devices and resources, segmenting the network, and managing access controls.

Transition to cloud-based solutions

Physical infrastructure is limited by expensive hardware and on-site maintenance — a complete opposite of agile, easy to deploy, and upgrade setup. Therefore, the transition to cloud environments is a go-to solution for efficiency and sustainability. Modern cyber security Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) architecture levels everything to a virtual level that is easier to manage and scale on demand.

Automate monitoring

Hybrid work environments result in many requests, endpoints, and incidents that eventually become hard to manage and require more time and work resources from IT admins. Increasing pressure leaves more space for human error, so automatization is one of the key considerations to simplifying monitoring operations and detecting deviations in real-time.

Educate employees

Growing awareness of security importance in employees is as required as any tool or software that helps create a hard to penetrate security grid over a company. Employees may not be aware of potential security threats that lurk behind office walls. Therefore, training and building knowledge of personal responsibility and the relevance of applied security measures are crucial for every business.

Protect hybrid environments with NordLayer

Man working remotely from home

Ensuring security and company data well-being in hybrid environments is the responsibility of both the company and employees. Desired results are much easier to achieve if the right network management tools and solutions are available. We at NordLayer have faced the same challenges as any other modern business affected by rapid change in how we live and operate, and hybrid work policy was no exception. This situation enabled NordLayer to offer only relevant and problem-targeted collaboration tools — this is how a secure network access solution was designed and developed.

NordLayer offers cloud services that establish layered security architecture based on the SASE and Zero Trust models that are the definitive future of the cybersecurity landscape. We have overviewed both SASE and Zero Trust models on our earlier blog posts — how they compare and guidelines on implementing them into your company.

Features for cybersecurity professionals

Business VPN, encrypted data traffic, identity authentication, and verification with a combination of Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA), biometrics, and Single Sign-On (SSO) supported by major providers enables easy implementation of zero-trust security measures within the devices and network.

NordLayer’s Smart Remote Access solution covers data access challenges by creating a virtual office with a secured site-to-site, file sharing, and device control features.

A centralized Control Panel allows security teams to manage their workload and detect rooted devices or compliance breaches on time in one place to limit space for accidents. We promise an easy-to-start, combine and scale remote network security solution that supports companies with a hybrid work policy to achieve a flexible work environment.

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