Remote work security is the protection of access to corporate-managed, personal, recreational, and web applications. Securing remote workers and their applications entails identifying shadow IT, reducing risk via URL and web category filtering, implementing malware protection, and configuring data loss prevention (DLP)—among other techniques.
To frame it another way: Remote work security is the defense of sensitive applications and the preservation of acceptable application performance, in the context of more frequent remote access by employees. Remote workers expect ready access and fast performance, but delivering both requires keeping numerous threats (such as untrusted remote access) at bay.
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Although traditional remote work security originally revolved around virtual private networks (VPNs) and network perimeters, an increasingly hybrid workforce has necessitated more advanced cybersecurity practices and supporting tools.
The three big pillars of security for remote workers are:
The growth of hybrid work models means the classic network perimeter model of cybersecurity—where initial remote access is granted via VPN, and any subsequent activity within the corporate WAN is deemed safe—no longer works. More specifically, remote workers need access to data and applications from virtually anywhere, and often from multiple devices.
However, the perimeter-based approaches to remote work security cannot secure the volume and variety of such remote access requests.
In addition to on-premises applications, workers now must access SaaS apps in public clouds. These apps exert a major strain on perimeter-based security and MPLS WANs. SaaS traffic flowing over a traditional WAN to VPN users must first be backhauled through a datacenter, a process that degrades performance and leads to remote workers turning off their VPNs altogether. But enabling such direct access to the cloud exposes them to numerous cybersecurity threats.
Remote employees are using personal devices instead of company hardware, complicating endpoint security. Corporate networks cannot assume that any remote access request is legitimate until multiple remote security measures have been applied, as it might come from any number of unmanaged device types. Moreover, users within VPNs have discretion to move laterally through a network, spreading malware. Context-aware “just in time” and just enough” access models are needed instead.
VPNs are not built to scale. With increasing remote work and more users reliant on VPNs, enterprises need more security hardware than ever within their datacenter. Scaling this hardware-based architecture is a complex, slow and costly process. Increasing amounts of encrypted and high-bandwidth application traffic going to cloud-based applications and the web at large only worsens this problem.
This issue highlights the overall challenge in enabling modern remote work security—namely, how to balance airtight application and data protection with acceptable performance and streamlined access for legitimate end users across the company network. Amid the growing security risks from dangers such as malware and insider threats, remote security solutions must:
Together, these measures protect data and users from numerous cybersecurity risks that would otherwise go largely unchecked among remote workers and the applications they use.
See why ZTNA is essential for securing the modern workplace—and get insights for evaluating ZTNA vendors.
Integrating remote worker security measures that go beyond VPNs and backhaul architecture is essential, given the depth and breadth of cybersecurity risks. Some of the most prominent threats include:
Phishing attacks are a blunt, yet effective, way for their perpetrators to extract sensitive data like login credentials using common communications channels such as email or chat. In a remote work context, phishing emails including content related to corporate policies have become especially common phishing vessels. Scams related to prizes or “urgent” matters like tax filing remain popular, too.
For example, an employee might receive an important-looking email saying the company is updating its hybrid work policy as part of a “back to the office” move. But once they open it and click a link in it purporting to lead to a page with more details, their account is compromised. Using a VPN, the attacker may be able to move laterally through the network and cause additional harm. Continuous and contextual security risk assessment is needed.
Even though passwords are fundamental to cybersecurity as we know it, the creation and overall management of them is a source of countless problems. Employees frequently recycle the same weak passwords across accounts, potentially exposing all of their data to exfiltration if just one login is compromised.
Even worse, passwords that they use on personal accounts are reused on corporate ones as well. This means a breach affecting a private email account could have major ramifications for the safety of workplace data. The sheer scope of SaaS and web app usage makes poor password hygiene a major threat to remote work security.
In the old world of perimeter security, IT could extend its perimeter to a set of trusted managed devices, like company-owned PCs, and enable VPN access from them. That paradigm breaks down in a remote work world, where employees are typically using unmanaged personal devices like smartphones and laptops.
Someone with a VPN client installed on a personal device could access their company applications, but there would be distinct security risks involved. The personal device in question might not be properly patched or running the most up-to-date software. Accordingly, they could open up new vulnerabilities across the network after gaining remote access to it.
Because the combination of VPNs and hub-and-spoke WANs takes a major toll on performance and user experience, it’s common for a remote worker to seek out alternatives that “feel” better but are less secure. As problematic as VPNs are overall, this approach of using no protections at all is far riskier. Remote workers run the risk of malware infections that can leak sensitive data and cost their organizations significant sums, in the form of data breaches and ransomware campaigns.
To mitigate the device and data security risks facing remote workers, organizations must protect cloud and on-premises corporate applications, while simultaneously securing SaaS and web access. The best remote worker security solutions for these purposes will be tightly integrated within a single-pass architecture that reduces latency and maximizes performance.
At a fundamental level, SASE makes network access more secure without compromising performance. It connects users to any type of application—including SaaS, internally managed apps, virtualized ones and web properties—by way of a variety of security mechanisms including SWGs, CASBs and sandboxes. SASE safely connects a remote worker to any app, on any device, from any location, and doesn’t require setting up a bunch of firewalls at every branch.
Meanwhile, as part of SASE, ZTNA trusts no one by default, instead using continuous monitoring and validation of all user identities via mechanisms like multi-factor authentication (MFA). The zero trust approach is ideal for remote work security because:
Organizations must keep up with the surge in application traffic from remote workers, and the easiest way to do so is to move beyond traditional hardware-centric approaches to remote work security. More traffic — whether from corporate-sanctioned, SaaS and general web applications — means a heavier load on hardware appliances and, in turn, the need to either upgrade them at great cost periodically or deal with performance slowdowns as encrypted traffic gets inspected. Securing internet access through software instead offers a superior way forward, thanks to capabilities including but not limited to:
Traffic visibility is essential when evaluating risks from and to remote workers. To that end, a user behavior analytics solution may provide deep visibility into data points such as usernames, time stamps and source IP addresses, and also use AI to identify high-risk users and activities.
MFA is one of the most reliable ways to block automated cyberattacks as well as limit the damage from password theft and recycling. Single Sign-On (SSO) streamlines the user login experience and simplifies identity and access management for IT. Integrations with identity providers make MFA and SSO setup simpler.
Citrix offers comprehensive and always up-to-date remote work security solutions that are easy for security teams to implement: