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Experts discuss the risks of remote working  

Experts discuss the risks of remote working  

Industry ExpertInsightsNetworkingWorkforce Management

Over the last two years, SMEs have seen a significant shift as many moved to remote working. However, with that comes increased cyber-risks. We spoke to three experts about how remote working has impacted SMEs and how they can combat these cyberthreats.  

Surya Varanasi, CTO, StorCentric  

Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) faced similar challenges as their large enterprise counterparts when the pandemic shut down much of the world’s economy and employees were sent home virtually overnight. Many SME businesses failed for reasons such as consumers staying home, supply chain issues and the unbearable weight of brick-and-mortar overhead obligations. While others that had the option to do so, simply were unable to successfully transition to remote work as they didn’t have the IT infrastructure or expertise in place to enable its success. However, for those SMEs that were able to pivot and recognise that secure, efficient (i.e., fast and easy) and cost-effective data access – for both employees and customers – had to become the number one priority, they not only survived but thrived.  

For these successful SMEs, cybersecurity has and continues to be a top priority. They know that while large enterprise data breaches make headlines, SMEs are getting successfully hacked in equal if not greater numbers. During the rise of the pandemic, smart SMEs recognised the necessity of layered defences that started with powerful passwords, enlisted safe and secure Software-Defined Perimeters (SDP), leveraged security protection and anomaly detection solutions and continued with Unbreakable Backup.  

As backup has become today’s cybercriminals’ first target via ransomware and other malware – an Unbreakable Backup solution provides SMEs with two of the most difficult hurdles for cybercriminals to overcome – immutable snapshots and object locking.  

Immutable snapshots are by default, write-once-read-many (WORM) but now some vendors have added features like encryption where the encryption keys are in an entirely different location than the data backup copies. And then to further fortify the backup and thwart would-be internal and external criminals, with object locking layered on top of that, data cannot be deleted or overwritten for a fixed time, or even indefinitely. 

Still, many  SMEs continue to struggle today. While some do require more traditional ‘street-side’ face-to-face contact, others have simply been unable to break the mould and truly lean into the business and employee benefits that are aligned with a work from anywhere environment. Of course, countless others are flourishing because of their doing so. By fully embracing the new remote work technology and methodologies adopted during the pandemic, these SMEs have been able to drive competitive advantage, unlock new business opportunities, decrease costs and dramatically increase revenue in what has become and will likely stay our new normal into the foreseeable future. 

Ed Williams, EMEA Director of SpiderLabs, Trustwave 

At the start of the pandemic, organisations were plunged into completely foreign territory where remote working was concerned. Almost overnight workforces became dispersed, forcing businesses to extend their digital systems beyond the existing perimeter and exposing their networks to more potential breaches.    

Broadly speaking, SMEs made it through as best as they could. Without the budget and resources of larger enterprises to help with the relocation, SMEs could only do their best. I know from first-hand experience that some poor practices were observed, most notably with SMEs turning on RDP and then using laptops that had not been hardened. However, organisations had to react so quickly, that who can blame them? 

The issue is that remote working is here to stay and yet two years on SMEs suffer from the same issues as they did throughout the pandemic and before. It takes a business with a certain level of scale to be able to take information security (people, process and technology) seriously and consequently cybersecurity is rarely at the forefront of the mind of an SME. With inflation soaring, I suspect that their focus remains elsewhere.  

Therefore, for an SME, cybersecurity only really becomes an issue when it is an issue – when hit by ransomware, for example. However, this needn’t be the case. Rather than conclude that they simply lack the resources and manpower necessary to implement and maintain the security processes that will ensure their cyber-resiliency is strong no matter where their workforce resides, SMEs must instead work smarter with how they implement their limited resources.  

For example, instead of the sporadic investment in disparate pieces of expensive new tech, SMEs are far better off consistently ensuring that the cyberbasics are covered across their enterprise. These are patching, robust passwords, and a detailed security policy. Admittedly these aren’t the most exciting aspects of security but doing these cyberbasics well is the most effective way for an SME to tighten their security posture.  

Regular vulnerability scans can confirm that these basics are being followed effectively across the whole of an SME’s environment. Exploiting vulnerabilities is a leading initial access vector for threat actors and ransomware-based attacks – an example being the recent Log4j vulnerability. The benefit of vulnerability scanning and vulnerability management to SMEs is therefore vast and SMEs must be aware of any vulnerabilities they may be exposed to and how to remediate and manage them also. 

Sunil Ravi, Chief Security Architect at  Versa Networks 

The pandemic was a massive wake-up call for SMEs who were thrust into the remote working environment despite not necessarily having the proper infrastructure. Previously, employees’ home networks were not part of an SME’s network, however, the sudden switch to remote working forced SMEs to extend their network without having time to fully assess and address the security risks. 

Whilst every organisation, no matter what their size, experienced this situation, the problem was exacerbated for SMEs due to the type of devices that were connected to their networks. Many SMEs do not have budget to provide employees with corporate devices, therefore many employees ended up using their devices, which probably have inadequate security. Unfortunately, when there are poor security measures then there are opportunities for threat actors to exploit weaknesses and breach an SME’s network. 

Keeping costs down also results in employees using cloud applications. SMEs normally take advantage of the most cost-effective solutions, which are usually stored in the cloud. Therefore, employees are not only expanding the network by working remotely but are now accessing cloud applications which are located across the world. 

Adding more devices to a network and accessing applications from different locations all expand the attack surface of an organisation, creating larger gaps in the network which can be exploited by threat actors. Security teams, who are usually extremely small, sometimes just one IT manager, then struggle to maintain full visibility and control across their entire network, making it easier for malware to evade and cause significant and long-term damage. 

It is therefore crucial that SMEs start looking towards solutions that can secure their networks, whilst providing them with the flexibility and speed needed when working remotely. Technologies such as Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) have proven to be an excellent way of providing both networking performance and security. 

SASE brings a closer integration between security and networking to ensure networks are secure through the principles of Zero Trust but maintain high connectivity speeds. With SASE, security is consistent across the entire network eliminating security gaps and vulnerabilities when connecting with multiple security solutions. Additionally, SASE ensures that the network is segmented, resulting in SMEs being able to restrict the movement of malware across networks and significantly reducing the cyber-risk.  

SASE is naturally designed for organisations that may lack security or network-focused engineers and architects, risk and compliance teams, and onsite hardware technicians. By featuring easy integration processes such as default configurations and templates, launching SASE architecture is simple. Through SASE, SMEs have an easy-to-use security solution which can give them complete visibility across their entire network and absolute control over who is accessing what and when on their network. 

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