How to adapt Smart Network Security in [WFH]

As a result of the global pandemic, there is no more working remotely or working from home, there is just working. Having a job is not only a function of where you go but what you do as well.

Today, workers can work from anywhere. We will never return to an environment in which most people toil away in office buildings every day from 9 to 5, nor will we maintain the quasi-cottage industries of 2020 with everyone at home trying to be productive. In addition to the executive looking to trim the real estate budget and have less commute time and more family time, several employees are sitting at the edge of their beds sharing spotty Wi-Fi with flatmates who can’t wait to get back to work. As a result, we’ll have a hybrid work environment going forward, which is good.

Due to COVID-19, technical teams worldwide faced an urgent need to support a surge in remote work. 5% of the workforce had access to the virtual private network (VPN), not 100%, and the security was designed around everyone being present at work. These unexpected changes surprised organizations. Organizations have responded to the challenge of enabling and securing remote workers in different phases, according to security strategists.

A phased approach to remote access

In the first phase, at ExterNetworks, we moved a portion of people out of the office and had them working from home by the weekend. Out of pure necessity, whatever remote access method existed previously, usually VPN, was scaled fast during this phase.

The next phase was the realization that the patched-together secure network now resembled a colander, with openings that could be exploited by cybercriminals. The remote access, originally intended for occasional email checking and server reboots, was now being used by everyone, and these users do not have the same security orientation as the IT team.

To secure all these remote connections, we added better endpoint protection, more distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) defenses for VPN gateways (which suddenly became the lifeblood of the company), and updated anti-phishing tools.

In the final phase, it was recognized that there was a more intelligent way. From a performance and security perspective, an entire organization using VPN to work was insufficient. While many IT transformation initiatives were already underway or accelerated in 2020, they faced the challenge of connecting data and users from anywhere and everywhere. However, traffic was still being sent through virtual tunnels, fixed locations, and bottlenecks.

Using security-enabled networks in a smarter way

In addition to improving the user experience, the new approach needs to improve security as well. With the migration of applications from data centers to the cloud, it should allow users to work effectively without having to juggle multiple VPN connections. Routing it through a central security system only to return to the cloud again, rather than going directly to it.

Employees have access to the corporate network from multiple devices — school laptops, televisions, smart washing machines. Additional risks arise from exposed Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) ports and VPN portals.

The number of RDP cyberattacks in 2020 increased by 768%. The attackers then move laterally through the network, finding unpatched servers, exploiting systems, and elevating access privileges until they reach valuable data. Traditional office environments posed this risk, but it is much greater now that organizations are opening their networks.

The smarter solution is to connect users to applications rather than connecting machines directly to networks. We can drastically reduce risk and improve performance by using the internet as a conduit.

Accessing applications for users

In the traditional scenario, once users connect over VPN, they have the same level of access as those in the office, except that the network that the remote users are connected to could be unsafe due to potentially insecure endpoints or password management issues. If an engineer on a VPN connects to accounting servers even if he or she does not have the login credentials, that threat actor has network-level access and can identify targets for attacks, such as IP addresses, open ports, and unresolved vulnerabilities.

Zero Trust is a network security model that is based on strict identity authentication been applied to many different tools. But it is also a great solution for remote access. Before a user can access the application, they need to authenticate. Although multi-factor authentication (MFA) is a requirement for most organizations, it can still be vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks – in which an attacker intercepts or manipulates data between parties, like what happened at Twitter. An additional layer of security is provided by using a FIDO2 token generator associated with the laptop. A request without proper authentication will be dropped and there will be no connection between the client and application.

Likewise, authorization allows least privilege access, a principle adopted by Zero Trust that further reduces risk by only granting users the access they need to do their jobs. It is sometimes possible to reduce the attack surface of an organization considerably by requiring authorization before connecting to an application.

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Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, we do not need to connect the device to the server where the application is running. We proxy the connection and allow devices to talk directly to applications via Zero Trust Network Access since Zero Trust Network Access provides users with applications through a cloud-based service. If a user’s device becomes compromised, the server’s IP address is all that is exposed, not the user’s device.  With this approach, the employee can use a personal laptop at home if he or she usually uses a desktop in the office.

Network security services are available through the FieldEngineer platform, which is the world’s largest online marketplace. The one-stop right place for clients who are looking for freelancers near them. Become one of them and hire the perfect Network Security Engineer to work for you.

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Written by Neomi Rao

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