Telework Demands Secure Connections

Timing is everything. Imagine a global pandemic 10 years ago. Even then, such widespread telework wouldn’t have been nearly as possible. And 20 years ago? Forget about it.

The move to large-scale remote work wasn’t just about getting laptops to households. Rather, by 2020, network size, speed and availability had matured to a point where agencies – including some of the nation’s largest employers – could reliably support their employees using wireless connections to reach the network. That left security playing catch-up.

“Serendipity played a role in success at doing remote telework — where many agencies were in their upgrade cycle and what technology choices they had made,” said Jim Richberg, Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) for Public Sector at Fortinet, a network security provider.

Agencies have succeeded thus far, but a digital world demands even more advanced network security structures. To progress, agencies can follow the below steps.

1. Recognize new patterns of work

2020 was “the year of the hybrid,” Richberg said.

The move to telework — portending shifts to longer-term hybrid environments — bore fascinating patterns, from shared school and work computer stations to work hours expanding beyond 9 to 5. These trends meant security teams had to re-evaluate red flags. Late-night logins and unrecognized activity used to be indicators of a breach; now, they blend into the work-life puree of every employee.

Another trend of note: Agencies everywhere opened up previously in-person jobs to geographically distant employees. Since employees didn’t need to be officebound, employers sourced from a broader pool of candidates. This was a major win for hiring teams, but blurred the important filter of location for network security administrators, who previously marked an activity as suspicious if from an unrecognized location.

2. Understand faces on networks

Out-of-state employees aren’t the only fresh faces on networks. Agencies have turned to robotic process automation – which has its own access credentials – to help handle the surge of citizen requests and resolve backloads.

Security teams now must authorize and secure large numbers of connections to disparate internal databases. And as the digital surface grows, the threat landscape does too. Multi-vector, multi-impact, mixed “best of breed” attacks and AI-assisted targeting are becoming more commonplace.

Differentiating between legitimate and malicious network traffic will remain a challenge.

3. Roll out SD-WAN

Agencies can embrace the remote revolution by adopting a software-defined wide-area network (SD-WAN). SDWAN reduces the cost and burden of providing remote workers with access to applications and data. And since security controls are integrated at the edge, traffic doesn’t need to travel back to the data center, boosting the user experience.

Integrated security also improves visibility, helping administrators cut through the tangle of devices, accounts and profiles that clog up modern networks. Fortinet SD-WAN solutions also use automation to make connections simpler.

“The key should be spending smarter,” Richberg said. “And a key for governments is doubling down on upgrades such as SD-WAN, which saves money, increases staff efficiency, both IT and security, improves the user experience, and enhances security, productivity and resilience.”

This article is an excerpt from GovLoop’s recent guide, “Your Cybersecurity Handbook: Tips and Tricks to Stay Safe.” Download the full guide here.

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