What is remote work security?
Remote work security is the protection of access to corporate-managed, personal, recreational, and web applications. As more companies move towards hybrid and remote work, the defense of sensitive applications from any device has become more important. To keep up with the IT demands associated with hybrid work, companies must consider what infrastructure is needed to maintain application performance and security.
Remote workers expect easy access to applications as well as fast performance, but delivering both requires companies to adopt a security framework that keeps threats like untrusted remote access at bay.
Explore additional remote work security topics:
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:
- Secure access to a full range of SaaS applications, such as collaboration software and productivity suites, within remote work environments, whether those applications are being used for work-related or personal purposes.
- Defense against threats and risks stemming from general web access, such as personal email and cloud storage accounts, as well as visits to YouTube, discussion forums or sports websites during remote working sessions.
- Application management of corporate software hosted on-premise and in clouds like AWS, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud, through zero trust network access (ZTNA).
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:
- Go beyond the overly permissive and “assumed safe” structure of VPNs.
- Mitigate threats from these sources, namely SaaS and web access, that aren’t under IT’s direct control.
- Implement ZTNA principles, like network segmentation and traffic isolation, to shrink the attack surface and protect data and users on any app, in any location, and from any device.
- Enable protections through software agents on managed remote employee endpoints running any common OS, including Microsoft Windows, macOs, Chrome OS, Linux, iOS and Android.
- Improve upon single sign-on (SSO) by making it more contextual as well as compatible with a wider range of applications.
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.
How the approach to cybersecurity and zero trust network access has evolved
See how ZTNA has become mainstream to meet the needs of a hybrid organization.
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.
Weak password security
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.
Unmanaged personal devices and remote access
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.
Unsecured direct access to cloud and SaaS apps
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.
Secure Private Access (SPA)
At a fundamental level, SPA 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—based on a zero trust approach. SPA 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 SPA, 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:
- Users must be explicitly authorized with MFA and their devices are continuously profiled for risk based on criteria like patch levels.
- A remote worker only gets the minimum level of remote access needed for their roles, unlike the broad access granted through a VPN.
- Traffic microsegmentation cordons-off risky remote users and personal devices, curtailing lateral movement through the network.
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 and SSO
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:
- Citrix Secure Private Access offers MFA and SSO, so that businesses can enable remote access for their employees without the risks and complications of traditional password management. It also facilitates VPN-less access to cloud and SaaS apps, as part of a zero trust approach to cyber security designed to minimize the attack surface. Organizations can support safer, more scalable remote work.
- Citrix Enterprise Browser enables companies to access internal web apps without the need of DNS exposure. You’ll get a fully managed and controlled enterprise browser that allows for security controls through a web app.
- Citrix Analytics offers the insights necessary for identifying and resolving security and performance issues as quickly as possible.