The coronavirus pandemic dramatically altered the way in which employees work. While providing workers with more flexibility, potentially yielding higher productivity, and reducing commute-related stress, distributed work operations have also led to a more distributed technology environment.

Remote work not only expanded the cyber attack surface, it moved the attack surface beyond traditional perimeter defenses. As a result, nearly two-thirds of organizations observed increases in cyber security breaches during the most difficult phases of the coronavirus pandemic.

In order to survive, organizations have had to evolve cyber security approaches and implement new security technologies. Although next-level security solutions increased one-time costs, the results proved worthwhile. At this point, even more rigorous and powerful cyber security measures are needed to protect the distributed workforce.

10 best practices to combat distributed work vulnerabilities

While nothing is 100% secure, the following cyber security best practices can reduce the likelihood that your organization will have to contend with a devastating data breach.

1. Virtual private networks. Once a fringe security utility, VPNs are now must-have cyber security tools. Employers should provide employees with VPN access that allows for safe connections to company servers. When correctly configured, VPNs present employees with a level of secure access that parallels the security of an in-person, in-office connection. However, VPNs should represent just one of many layers of cyber security defense deployed by your organization…

2. Endpoint security. Consider endpoint security that provides end-to-end encryption on all traffic generated from an endpoint device. In contrast with a VPN, which is configured with split tunneling that enables access to many internet sites without encryption, some endpoint platforms can encrypt 100% of the traffic generated by the endpoint. These types of tools can serve as security game-changers.

3. Extended prevention and response platforms. These types of platforms provide rapid detection, investigation and automated response across the entire IT infrastructure, including on the network, cloud, endpoint, mobile and email security. Extended prevention and response (XDR/XPR) technology leverages artificial intelligence and cross-correlation techniques. In short, XDR/XPR prevents attacks from quickly expanding within your environment.

4. Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). One of the core components of security resiliency and operational standardization involves implementing a virtual desktop infrastructure. VDI allows authorized employees to securely connect to their organization’s networks and to access resources remotely via any internet connection, from nearly any device type and location.

5. Cloud-based firewalls. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, many organizations had perimeter-focused security strategies, as alluded to earlier in this article. However, the evolution of work and work environments has forced organizational and security industry change.

Many vendors now offer Firewall-as-a-Service (FWaaS) models for cloud environments. FWaaS offers a simple and flexible architecture. For employees, benefits of FWaaS include centralized policy management, malware and threat protection, along with other unified management capabilities. Learn more here.

6. A patch management system. To keep your organization secure, you not only need to patch, but rather you need to patch in a systematic way. To do so, you need complete visibility into all patch-able IT assets (servers, desktop computers, laptops, mobile devices, networking equipment…etc), a high degree of automation, testing and verification of patches, and strong patch reporting capabilities. The later can prove indispensable when it comes to documenting adherence to compliance regulations. The creation of a patch management system isn’t easy, but it’s not an insurmountable challenge either.

7. Multi-factor authentication and SSO. Enable distributed employees to stay more secure with multi-factor authentication and/or single sign-on (SSO). According to Microsoft, “multi-factor authentication (MFA) is the single best thing you can do to improve security for remote work.” SSO can also make your system more secure and can decrease the attack surface. In addition, in industries where employees require efficient and steady access to applications and services, SSO delivers on speedy connection capabilities.

8. Mobile security. Mobile-related threats can affect your organization’s security posture. Solutions like mobile device management can protect corporate data across the mobile attack surface. The best mobile device management tools allow for fast user adoption and have no impact on user experience or privacy.

As you shop for mobile device solutions, look for mobile device solutions that offer application protection. This prevents malware from infiltrating employees’ devices, effectively detecting and blocking the download of malicious apps in real-time. Learn more here.

9. Email security. Nearly 90% of all phishers use sender identity fraud as their attack vector. Consider layering content and identity-centric cyber security solutions in order to achieve maximum security protection.

You may also wish to consider an email security solution that can continuously learn and improve itself through every interaction and email. AI-based email security platforms, like Avanan, can detect abnormal behaviors, actions and compromised email accounts.

10. Employee education. Sophisticated phishing attempts commonly use social engineering techniques, and other human-centric methodologies that manipulate employees’ emotions and thereby lead them to act in a way that unintentionally compromises organizational security.

Keep employees up-to-date regarding the latest scams, especially those within your specific industry. Consider using a Slack channel (or similar) in order to regularly reach all employees with cyber security updates. Most importantly, empower your employees to become part of the cyber security solution.

Further thoughts

Organizations have a range of choices when it comes to how to protect the distributed workforce. Employers and technologists should take the time to understand employees’ use-cases and the advantages of each individual layer of security. Regardless of which layers of security your organization selects, protecting distributed employees with multiple, well-adapted layers of security can go a long way towards safeguarding your organization.

For more insights into securing your distributed workforce, see Check Point’s 8-part video guide for security admins in the new normal – here.

Lastly, don’t miss registration for the most important cyber security event of the year; CPX 360 2023. Register here.