coronavirus, government guidance is changing rapidly. In many countries,
healthy individuals are being asked for the first time to avoid unnecessary
public exposure, for example at large gatherings, on public transport … and in
around the world are now either planning for or actively implementing a
business model involving far more remote workers than they had ever anticipated.
IT and management teams are hard at work on the infrastructure and organization
to facilitate this. In the rush to keep businesses working, there is a
significant risk that security will not be properly thought through.
under any circumstances, should consider the following:
Is the technology and infrastructure deployed
secured against malicious actors, outside and inside the organization?
Do all company employees, subcontractors and
relevant third parties have clear instructions and guidance on how to conduct
their work in a secure manner?
Do any of the security measures in place block
employees from conducting their work efficiently?
in place, your business will be well-placed to fend off cyber security threats.
Too little, and you are vulnerable. Too much security, applied in the wrong
ways, and your employees will feel stifled and start finding workarounds,
ultimately still leaving the business vulnerable.
building remote capacity
below some key areas to consider when planning or deploying remote working
workers is that they have laptops, mobile phones, tablets or other devices to
work from. Many companies are now issuing additional equipment to their
workers, to allow them to remain fully effective outside the office. But please
be aware of the following:
asset management in place. Know what devices have access to your network and
data, plan for any changes, and block or remove obsolete equipment from your
network before it becomes a weak point in your security.
any device taken outside the office, should be encrypted, protecting data if
they are lost or stolen.
Use BitLocker or a suitable third party solution
for Windows devices
Make sure encryption is active on Apple devices
(it normally is!)
Make sure appropriate encryption is in place on other
their personal devices, consider whether your corporate data is appropriately
secured. Mobile Device Management solutions may allow you to secure data on
these devices, or you may need to restrict what employees are allowed to access
in the first place.
that is still in the office! With employees working from home, is there
sufficient physical security at your sites to protect servers, desktops, and
other parts of your network from malicious actors?
and user accounts around, don’t forget the other parts of day-to-day security
preparation – strong passwords, secured and appropriate local administrator
accounts, and control over the applications and services on your network are
just as important as ever, to name a few.
servers are both appropriately secured, it’s important to make sure the two can
connect! Access to your network should be easy for legitimate users, but
blocked (or at least very difficult) for everyone else. Consider the following:
Method of connection. Well-configured VPN
clients on all employee devices allow secure access to the network through a
private tunnel. Other secure access solutions will be available for particular
use cases. If you need employees to achieve access from the open internet, are
they connecting to a particular external firewall, or a well-managed cloud
service like Office 365? When planning user access, try to limit as far as
possible the exposure of additional areas of your network to the internet and
its many threats.
Restricting access. Many types of
connections can be configured to further secure them against malicious actors.
If you are using a cloud service like Office 365, consider restricting access
where possible to particular devices, particular IP ranges, or to particular
types of connections. Firewalls and other services will offer many similar
options for carefully managing access rules. Consider restrictions inside your
network too; preventing connections or user accounts from going beyond certain
areas will reduce the risk from one unsecure employee or unforeseen
Strong authentication. The next step in
securing any access is to ensure that strong password policies and multi-factor
authentication are enforced. Enforced strong password policies are a must for
all services, not just those that are meant to be publicly accessible.
Multi-factor authentication should be used as much as is practical for your
business. Remember that there are many types of authentication; while text
messages might seem like the path of least resistance, if you have time to set
up an authentication app your business will be much more secure, while
device-based authentication might be appropriate in places to reduce
frustration for employees.
Think of everything. To secure a network,
you have to consider all the different ways it can be accessed. How are your
employees accessing their mailboxes from their mobile devices? Do employees
need to connect to operational technology such as factory equipment (and is it
safe to let them)? How is remote desktop access into your network structured?
If you fail to secure these, you create vulnerabilities; if you fail to facilitate
them, you prevent employees from working.
secured at your end, but that data has to come from somewhere. As employees are
based outside your secure environment, it is often up to them to make sure they
are acting appropriately. You can help by providing them with suitable guidance
(as discussed further below) on topics like:
Setting up home wifi. Ordinary home users
often neglect basic security when setting up their home environments. You can
help your employees with simple advice backed by senior leadership. Basics like
changing network name and access and administrator credentials are key, and
employees should also ensure appropriate network encryption is in place, remote
access is disabled, and that the software is kept up-to-date.
Accessing other networks. You may want to
consider providing guidance to your employees about (not) using public wifi,
about how network names can be spoofed, and how man-in-the-middle attacks can
be launched on public wifi networks. A lot of the guidance on using public wifi
for business purposes is now very similar, but by specifically setting out your
own rules and guidelines you can make sure your employees have a clear
understanding of best practice. Don’t forget to mention the other risks of
working in public places, relating for example to Bluetooth connections and to
simple over-the-shoulder spying.
Communications channels. Make sure your
employees have a clear understanding of how they should communicate with you,
with third parties and with each other. Make clear that work emails should be
confined to work accounts, and which messaging services they should use (do you
have a specific business solution, or are they on WhatsApp?). If you don’t make
sure there are clear lines of communication available, before long your
employees might well be texting each other passwords or customer names, with
all the attendant risks. If you do provide clear solutions, you can effectively
monitor them for any potential threats, for inappropriate data movement, and
for other business purposes.
Watch out for Coronavirus phishing. As with
other major world events, the COVID-19 outbreak represents an opportunity for
malicious actors, from simple scammers to government-backed hacker groups.
Individuals and businesses worldwide are now being targeted by phishing
campaigns designed to play on fear of the virus and of the lack of reliable
information on the outbreak. Extra vigilance should be exercised by all
regarding any communication, hyperlink, attachment or request for information
relating to coronavirus. Warning your employees about this will reduce the
threat to them and to you.
important areas where you can provide guidance to your employees, but in fact
clear and effective communication is one of the most important steps you can
take in any area. Even if you have a clear plan and a secure infrastructure in
place, without clear information employees will make mistakes, or else assume
you don’t have a plan and start taking (potentially unsecure or
counterproductive) measures of their own.
informed, at least a week in advance if practicable, about what devices they
can use, what services they can access, and how they should do so. Keep them up
to date if this changes. Some employees may not have the access they need; you
need to find a solution before they come up with their own! If access isn’t in
place yet, employees should know when implementation is planned so they can act
accordingly, and if at all possible, what alternative solutions are available
in the interim.
not just a matter for technical IT or Cyber Security teams. Communication with
employees regarding remote access should be overseen by executive
management-level staff. While the technical teams can provide the appropriate
solutions and guidance that employees need, this information needs to be
effectively prepared and packaged so it can be delivered in clear and simple
language, using an appropriate method, and at an appropriate time. Importantly,
the guidance or policy should be clearly backed by the senior leadership of the
organization, to ensure that it has the authority and clarity needed to
convince employees to follow the advice given.
you provide sufficient information to third parties as well, including any
customers who need to access your network. They will also need to know how to
contact you, how to access relevant services and infrastructure, and what you
expect from them in terms of their own security. Make sure your planning and
requirements are clearly in place, then let them know clearly and decisively
what you want – and, if the situation changes, consider when it will be most
effective to update them.
knows that no one is ever absolutely safe from a malicious attack. Combining
the increased exposure from remote working with the confusion and short
deadlines of responding to the changing coronavirus situation only increases
incident response, crisis management and/or business recovery plans in place,
it is important to review them in light of your new operating environment. Can
you access all the equipment you will need to test or reset? Is your data still
being backed up to a secure site? Can your users still effectively report phishing
or other indicators of cyber incidents? How are you going to maintain
communication between the key crisis managers if all your laptops and mobiles
get encrypted with ransomware? If your plan isn’t tested yet, now may be the
wrong time to start – but at a minimum do all the relevant staff at least have
a clear understanding of the plan, and how your current situation has altered
place, you likely don’t have time to build them right now, but it is important
to at least consider the basics. Do you know where your key data is stored? Do
you know what services are key to your business survival? Do you have backup
communication channels, independent of your network? Do you have similarly
separated, and regularly updated, data backups?
situation – who will be needed to respond to a crisis? Who else needs to be
informed? How are they going to coordinate, and who will replace them when they
need to get some sleep?
situation, and advice from governments, is changing rapidly. As time passes,
businesses may have more time to implement additional measures and better adapt
to the new situation; or new events may force them to continue to react. In
either position, please bear in mind the following:
Cyber security should be a part of your IT and
business planning, not something added on at the end where it will be
ineffective or will get in the way
Always keep your eye on the prize of your key
data, assets and services that need protection
Always consider your whole network or
organization – be careful not to miss gaps in your defenses, or legitimate
business needs that you are inadvertently blocking
Communicate with your employees – use clear and
simple messaging, make sure the information provided is well-founded and
authoritative, and explain how they should act in order to do their jobs
Underwriting Officer & Head of North America Cyber and Technology for AXA
XL, a division of AXA. Aaron Aanenson is director of cyber security for S-RM.