We live in unprecedented times. Despite there being a number of occasions in recorded history where ah a medical emergency has befallen humanity; there has never been so many of us and never has there been such disruption to our economically interconnected world.
Despite this, we also live in exceptional times when it comes to technological capabilities. Never before have we been able to mobilise large parts of our workforce to continue to perform their roles via the internet, VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) and mobile devices.
In this blog, we will discuss five areas which businesses will need to consider when planning for a scenario where offices may be closed and large-scale home working is required.
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1. Secure VPN Software
This might seem obvious given the nature of this blog. However, many business – particularly smaller ones and those who do not support remote-working – do not have VPN software.
A VPN is a secure connection made through the internet to a device hosted at the business offices. That secure connection can then be used by the user’s laptop to access services and applications, which would normally only be accessible from the office, in their homes.
Some newer VPNs can operate in a “connectionless mode”, which means that when the user's laptop detects that it is not in the office, it automatically creates a VPN connection to it, transparently to the user.
2. CASB Solutions for Centralised Application Access
Although some workers are likely to be veterans of remote-working and know how to access all the required applications, connect to the company VPN and access their emails, scenarios such as these may present us with the need to allow those be office-based workers to learn as well.
A CASB (Cloud Access Security Broker) provides two basic functions:
- Centralises all applications into one portal, therefore providing the user with one menu in which to access everything they need.
- Provides single sign-on capabilities so that users do not have to enter a username and password into each application they open.
CASB solutions are highly recommended as they simply the access method for the various applications which a business might use. Rather than use internet browser bookmarks, desktop icons or even relying on users to remember how to access each individual application – users can access, transparently authenticate and get working quickly and easily.
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3. Multi-Factor Authentication
Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is unlikely to be an alien concept to anyone with a bank account. But sometimes its importance is not well recognised due to its common usage.
With larger numbers of users working from home and connecting applications, services and VPNs from the internet, the risk of an account becoming compromised - which could lead to unauthorised access – is greater, simply because of the increased number of accounts being used.
While you may have gone to great pain to communicate with users about the importance of strong passwords, not sharing their passwords with others or writing them down, research shows that this has done very little to improve the weaknesses of relying on password authentication alone.
Instead, we recommend that any point of authentication, particularly when performed from the public internet, includes a method of MFA. This reduces the chance of the unauthorised access and keeps your network safe.
4. Soft-Phones and Instant Messenger
Email is a staple of the modern business and has been for almost as long as computers have been in offices. But let’s face it, we all receive too many; and it is rarely the best method of communication when needing to discuss something through conversation or we need a speedy reply.
On an office floor or even a shared building, this would be resolved through a desk telephone call or an in-person conversation between two people. So, how can we replicate this in a scenario where there is little-to-no access to company-owned desk phones, and no ability to speak with a fellow colleague in person?
Almost all modern SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) telephony systems have a soft-phone capability which allows you to install a telephony software on a laptop for receiving and making calls as if you were using your desk phone. In a similar manner, many instant messaging (IM) clients such as Microsoft Teams allow you to integrate telephony and chat services into the same client.
Where such telephony services allow external phone numbers to be re-routed, customers will still be able to call the business and get through to the correct member of staff who is working from home.
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5. Mobile Device Management
The larger the number of users needing to work from home, the bigger the problem there is of asset management. More laptops and mobile devices out of the office with more of a potential for loss, damage and users needing assistance from IT.
Mobile device management solutions provide a plethora of helpful features. However, in cases such as these, the following are useful:
- Remote assistance or help-desk capabilities.
- Device tracking should devices be stolen or lost.
- Automated software deployment for updates and new software installations.
The Future of Home-Working
While the COVID-19 virus outbreak and its impact on global businesses is unprecedented, home- or remote-working is neither new nor something that is likely to take most businesses by surprise. In-fact, extreme weather events have meant that businesses have been experiencing bouts of mass-home working for a number of years.
What is different in this case, is the length of time in which this event is likely to last.
Where a flood or heavy snowfall might affect office attendance for a couple of days. Isolation periods or even municipal/country-wide shutdowns are likely to last much longer. This means that the remote-working capabilities of businesses are going to be tested in a scenario which has probably not been tested before.
On the plus side, while remote-working is growing in popularity as a normal and regular method of working, it is still not fully embraced by a large number of businesses. A probable outcome of this situation is that more businesses become comfortable with, and may even enjoy some of the widely reported benefits of home-working.
Benefits which have shown to be complimentary for both for users and businesses alike.