Remote Workforce Cybersecurity Guide

A comprehensive how-to guide for keeping your remote workforce secure & productive

Over the last two decades, remote workforces have been starting to enter the mainstream; however, COVID-19 has forced companies to shift their entire workforces to 100% work-from-home practically overnight — whether they were ready for that transition or not. This sudden change has brought on a new set of security challenges that need to be addressed. Not only do more endpoints need to be secured remotely, but adversaries are exploiting vulnerabilities created by this change faster than ever. And yesterday’s virtual private networks (VPNs) were never designed to support the new needs of an entirely remote workforce.

Thing is, this new normal could exist beyond the COVID-19 outbreak. According to Gartner, Inc., nearly three in four CFOs plan to shift at least 5% of previously on-site employees to permanently remote positions post-COVID 19. Beyond the obvious goals of keeping employees healthy, there are other, undeniable benefits that suggest working from home could take hold as a permanent strategy.

Your new work-from-home policies could stick, so don’t rethink your telecommuting strategies too hastily in the face of the COVID-19 scare. Your decisions about remote work today may drive tomorrow’s results.

In this guide, we take a look at how to create new policies that effectively manage and secure your remote teams while greatly reducing cost and complexity. We also discuss how you can quickly and easily harden your endpoints in order to stay ahead of cyber threats and become a modern IT operations (ITOps) team. And we share how Automox’s cloud-native endpoint hardening platform can reduce up to 80% of your vulnerabilities across Microsoft® Windows®, macOS®, and Linux® from a single console. No hardware needed. No VPNs required.

COVID-19 & working remotely:
What you need to know now

Here’s some big-picture thinking to help inform your decisions right now. According to Global Workplace Analytics, organizations save roughly $11,000 per year per part-time telecommuter. And data shows that working remotely leads to an increase in performance and higher job satisfaction, resulting in a 50% better attrition rate versus traditional office jobs. Additionally, companies with telework options have a distinct recruiting advantage, as modern job candidates expect the flexibility to work from home. They are even willing to sacrifice salary in exchange for reducing their daily commute. And as for those reduced commutes, if even half the Americans who could work from home actually did, greenhouse gases would be cut as if we removed the entire New York State workforce from the road.

Protect your employees from contagious illnesses. Cut costs. Attract better candidates for less. Retain them longer. Make workers happier and more productive. Reduce environmental impacts. Sounds like a winning formula for immediate and longer-lasting success.

The short-term efficacy of using remote work policies to reduce COVID-19 exposure is certainly vital to business continuity in the face of this pandemic. Keeping your teams safe during this period is a no-brainer — as is making sure their remote laptops are safe.

However, once your teams get accustomed to working from home, more flexible policies might need to become the new normal. Distribute Consulting has found that revoking work-from-home capabilities is a dangerous overcorrection that only worsens the accessibility, efficiency, and sustainability of jobs. Consider that the United States government is projected to lose more than $800 million this year through retracting telework policies.

So, no matter if you’re making a short-term shift or a long-term transformation, one of your most important considerations is how to keep your remote endpoints secure from vulnerabilities.

Make sure your VPN isn’t a critical point for securing your endpoints. Legacy patching platforms can only update systems and software on remote endpoints that are connected to the corporate network via VPN. Not only are companies concerned if their VPNs can even handle the upcoming spike in remote traffic, but also many users often avoid connecting altogether to circumvent the tedious, frustrating, and time-consuming process of making updates over slow VPN connections. Cloud-native endpoint management solutions like Automox seamlessly update and patch any corporate endpoint that’s connected to the internet, which means users are always current with patches and configurations.

Today, attackers are weaponizing vulnerabilities faster and more frequently than ever. In fact, the moment new critical vulnerabilities are reported sets off a race to see if you can patch vulnerabilities faster than adversaries can exploit them. To be safe, you need to remediate critical vulnerabilities within 72 hours of their announcement. Traditional, VPN-based patching solutions — which users are reluctant to utilize — will likely not allow you to remediate in time. Automox customers, on the other hand, meet this speed threshold thanks to automated, cloud-native remediation.

Patching can be a thankless, time-consuming task that’s easy to fall behind on. What’s worse, IT administrators often can’t see which software titles on which systems are out of date and susceptible to attack. Unpatched and misconfigured laptops are a huge concern for maintaining cyber hygiene. And an increase in remote laptops not connected to the corporate network for extended periods will only compound this problem. Automox gives you visibility into the status of remote endpoints so you can customize and automate both operating system (OS) and third-party application updates or patches to eliminate this threat.

Ponemon Institute recently found that 57% of data breaches are attributed to poor patch management. Additionally, third-party applications are responsible for more than 75% of all endpoint vulnerabilities. Yet managing and maintaining the latest software versions and configurations across multiple OSs and myriad remote laptops is a huge hurdle for legacy patch platforms. Automox keeps IT teams ahead of attackers across Windows, macOS, and Linux platforms, along with a growing library of third-party patching support — to secure remote laptops through a single, cloud-native console.

It’s difficult to automate policies for remote laptops you can’t see. As a cloud-native solution, Automox is uniquely able to provide a complete inventory of all hardware, software, patches, and configuration details for your remote endpoints. You’ll have a unified view of your remote laptops to identify misconfigured systems, discover missing patches, remediate patch vulnerabilities, deploy required software, and fix misconfigured systems across Windows, macOS, and Linux — without the need for multiple tools.

COVID-19 is already making significant disruptions to the global workforce. Only time will tell how long these disruptions last, but this outbreak could be providing a glimpse into the future of telework. Inexpensive video conferencing and communication tools are making it easier than ever to work from home and implementing new remote work policies now to account for COVID-19 concerns could be a sign of more flexible policies to come.

Patch management solutions for securing your remote workforce

For many organizations, security can be a real concern when it comes to remote workers. If your IT staff is still relying on legacy patch management tools, securing remote endpoints can be a time-consuming, arduous process. 

Between poor endpoint visibility and compatibility issues, it’s no wonder remote endpoints are often left vulnerable. And in this day and age, an unsecured endpoint is just an invitation for malicious activity. 

The digital landscape is rapidly evolving, and organizations of all sizes are dealing with a vast array of endpoints on their networks — and in many cases, IT staff must also contend with a bevy of different OSs and third-party applications. Patching all these things manually, or with archaic, one-trick pony solutions is simply no longer a viable option for organizations that want to make cybersecurity a priority. If you want to be secure in the modern digital age, you need a modern solution — one that will take care of every device on your network, no matter where it’s located or what OS and applications it’s running. 

Patch management is an essential part of good cybersecurity practices. This is especially true when it comes to your remote workers, given that unpatched endpoints are an excellent route of entry for attackers. Time is of particular importance when it comes to patching: Attackers can weaponize a vulnerability in just seven days. Conversely, it can take an average of up to 102 days for organizations to patch for a vulnerability. This discrepancy is a major problem — especially when it comes to endpoints.

Generally speaking, every remote worker who’s on your company network is going to represent at least one endpoint. This means remote team security should be a priority for any organization looking to improve their overall cybersecurity and securing all of your endpoints is key to good cyber hygiene. In 2019, Forbes reported that an astonishing 70% of all breaches still originate on endpoints

Experts agree that increasing endpoint visibility and having the ability to remediate vulnerabilities in real time are essential to good endpoint management. When it comes to securing your remote workforce, endpoint protection and visibility should be at the top of your list. 

It’s common to underplay the need for security when it comes to remote workers, but while they may not work in the office, remote workers are still often a significant part of your team. And in many cases, in-house employees may also have the option to work from home. These workers often have administrative privileges or access to sensitive information on your network — and if their devices aren’t secured properly, they can pose a risk to your organization’s security.

Securing remote devices can be a monumental task if you don’t have the right tools. Dark endpoints are notoriously difficult to reckon with. “Have they been patched? Did the last security update fail? No one knows. The endpoints may exist, they may not.”

Poor endpoint visibility is a real problem that plagues organizations of all sizes. And the more remote workers you have, the more challenging it can be for your IT staff to keep track of all the remote endpoints on your network. 

Endpoints are a continual target for malicious actors, and with some 60% of all data breaches linked to an unpatched vulnerability, it’s clear that patching your endpoints should be a major concern. Unpatched endpoints are routinely billed as one of the leading threats to endpoint security — yet endpoint visibility remains a significant problem for many organizations. Recent statistics show that 80% of CISOs and CIOs wrongly believed a patch was deployed successfully, when it had actually failed to reach across their entire network. 

Older patch management options are often lacking when it comes to endpoint visibility, but modern, cloud-native solutions, like Automox, offer full endpoint visibility — including the ability to see patch status and take action to remediate vulnerabilities in real time.

The issue of patching remote endpoints that you can’t see or track can be further compounded by overly complex patch management strategies. Legacy patch management platforms like Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) are severely limited when it comes to handling multiple OS or third-party applications — and these older options also tend to be expensive, hard to configure, and endpoint visibility is typically poor. 

While your in-house team may use Microsoft Windows, your remote workers may be using macOS or Linux. Maybe your remote workers use one of the many Adobe® applications, too. Using a different patching platform for every OS and third-party application on your network is as inefficient as it is frustrating. 

The limitations of legacy options can put a real crimp in your cybersecurity efficiency, especially when it comes to managing remote team security. Remote endpoints are just as likely to be attacked as any other part of your network — if not more so — and ensuring patches are deployed across your entire network can be next to impossible if you’ve got poor endpoint visibility and you’re trying to keep track of everything you need to patch with multiple tools. 

With a strong cross-platform patch management solution, your IT staff can secure every device on your network from one singular location — no matter where the devices are located or what OS they’re running. This greatly simplifies the task of patching for an array of devices running different OS and third-party applications — and it increases the efficiency and effectiveness of your remote team cybersecurity management.

Cloud-native, cross-platform solutions like Automox offer organizations of every size an affordable, easy-to-use option for patch management. With Automox, users have full visibility over every endpoint — as well as the ability to assess patch status and remediate vulnerabilities in real time. The same interface can patch across multiple OSs, as well as third-party applications. Custom automated patching protocols and policies can be tailored to fit the needs of your organization — including your remote workers — and, as a cloud-native solution, configuration is simple. 

Patch management for remote devices has long been a thorn in the side of every IT staffer, but modern solutions like Automox can help solve many of the issues that organizations face when it comes to endpoint security and managing remote teams.

Automox has solutions no matter which path you choose. Contact us now for a demo of how we can deliver fast, simple cyber hygiene solutions for your remote workforce.

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