When the pandemic sent everyone home, many companies who had not allowed remote work previously were faced with a decision. Enable remote access or completely shut down. Even companies with a restrictive remote work policy were backed into a corner and required to open it up to a wider range of employees and contractors.

As these same companies plan to open back up, they’re now faced with a new reality. What was previously thought of as impossible, difficult or unproductive has in fact carried their company through an entire year, and although most staff members will be eager to get back into the office in some manner - they also now hope for some form of remote work to remain available.

When faced with first enabling remote access all that time ago last year, the advice you were hearing from your technology partners was probably to “set up a VPN.” Maybe your IT team had a small “break-glass” setup already in place that just needed to be scaled out. Or perhaps you had heard of Zero Trust network access (ZTNA) or Software Defined Networking (SDN), but you’d also heard those are journeys not solutions. You needed a quick fix, so that’s what you chose…. and your business survived, so that’s awesome news!

But (why is there always a “but” with awesome news?) …not so fast. One of the immediate side effects of this suddenly-mobile global workforce was an exponential increase in attacks aimed specifically at remote workers, many of whom were unfamiliar with—and ill-prepared for–the risks inherent in working outside the perimeter of the corporate network. Bad actors, always looking for fresh targets, crafted new exploits and campaigns designed to take advantage of unsuspecting users to try to gain footholds in environments that may have traditionally been out of reach or at least more difficult to obtain. Despite a steady drop over the last several years in the time between breach and detection, or dwell time, according to the Verizon Data Breach Investigation Report of 2020, roughly 25% of breaches still go undetected for months or more, so it’ll likely be quite a while before we understand the true impact of these attacks. In the unfortunate event of a breach, companies with a solid Zero Trust strategy will at least be able to minimize the collateral damage.

Regardless of where you are in regards to your remote workforce, it’s never too late to start planning. If employees are more engaged and are enjoying the benefits of an improved work-life balance, chances are that they’re more productive. Even if you wanted to, the longer that employees have the flexibility to work remotely, the more difficult it will be to put the proverbial genie back in the bottle. In most cases, the question shouldn’t be whether or not you continue to offer remote access but how do you do it in the most secure manner possible? Is VPN, a decades-old technology that essentially merges employees’ home networks with your enterprise network, really the right long-term answer? (Hint: It’s not.)

VPN is a product of castle-and-moat thinking, which doesn’t reflect the current norms of clouds, social networks and the consumerization of IT. Do all of your staff need the same level of access to all your systems as your IT administrators? While that question is obviously rhetorical, let’s get serious–if your network was not designed to be accessed remotely, there are almost certainly assumptions baked into the (lack of) security models around your applications. For that matter, even if it was designed with remote access in mind, was it designed for remote access in 2021?
That’s (one of the areas) where a Zero Trust mindset comes in. Never trust, always verify. Protect your critical data with:

  • Strong authentication controls to ensure that the user is a legitimate staff member.
  • Strong device posture controls to ensure that the device is a company laptop (or, if you allow BYOD, that it’s a well-maintained laptop).
  • Strong authorization controls to ensure that the staff member is authorized to access the application they’re trying to reach; from the device that they’re using; at the time that they’re online; from where they’re located.

ZTNA is also a foundational element of the Secure Access Service Edge (SASE). We’ll cover SASE in more detail in a future blog entry, but, at a high level, SASE is the marrying of networking and security functions in a cloud-native platform. Regardless of where your applications live, the sooner that you embrace SASE, the better, and there’s no better place to start than with ZTNA.

Partnering with the experts at Procella will allow you to develop a comprehensive roadmap to an agile workforce without compromising the safety and security of your company’s most important digital assets.