COVID-19 is far from over, and consequently, many people find themselves facing extended work-from-home (WFH) timelines. Tech companies, such as Twitter and Square, which in May announced the “work from home forever” option—and Facebook, which CEO Mark Zuckerberg has stated may have as many as half of the company’s employees working remotely in the next 5–10 years—are leading the WFH charge.
While working from home has its share of detractors, WFH offers benefits besides health safety—both from a personal standpoint for individual employees and a business bottom-line standpoint. From the perspective of workers, being able to get their job done remotely allows for a better worklife blend, allowing them to take care of family matters while still ensuring their job gets done, which is particularly important given the current pandemic. From the employer’s perspective, WFH has actually been shown to boost productivity. One study found that remote employees pump out three additional weeks of work per year compared with office-based workers. More productive workers translate to a better bottom line for companies.
WFH certainly presents challenges as well, which, in addition to a lack of in-person collaboration and the potential for some employees to feel out of the loop, include the possibility that WFH employees could inadvertently unlock the door to full-on corporate network attacks. But with the right security solution, you can avoid this latter challenge by eliminating your network attack surface, thereby protecting both home and corporate office systems and data.
But what is the right security solution to effectively accomplish these goals? One of the more long-standing traditional solutions that attempts to protect data and network security is a virtual private network (VPN). Yet VPNs have a number of disadvantages in the new world of widespread working from home. While the threat of opening your home network, computers, and smart devices to cybercriminals is a terrifying thought, the idea that WFH employees are increasing the risk of corporate network attacks through VPNs is keeping more than one IT manager and chief information security officer up at night.
VPNs may still be popular in some companies, but that is based on what they achieved in a world of physical servers and virtual machines, which is not the current model. VPNs worked just fine in the past for on-premise, non-cloud environments, serving up reliable traditional perimeter security. Today’s IT reality, however, features more of a hybrid cloud setting, with on-premise mixed with multiple (public and private) clouds. Each additional IT setting increases the risk of data exposure and security breaches, as does having many people working from home and creating additional security vulnerabilities, as homebased users are all treated to a slice of the network, so to speak, and an unprotected attack surface is created.
In fact, that’s by far the biggest security problem related to VPN solutions: They create a massive attack surface, as well as a nightmare for administrators to manage. Also, because every third party generally has different networking gear, companies are stuck managing multiple types of VPN connections. VPNs not only bring added maintenance headaches to IT when people are working from home, they also ensure additional security risks will be in the mix, since they expose the entire network to lateral movement.
Alternative to VPNs
There’s an updated alternative to VPNs, though: Employing networking software that specifically eliminates these problems. That software is known as SDP, or software-defined perimeter.
The way that SDP solves VPN security issues is by allowing connectivity across multiple clouds, sites, and domains todistributed apps and clients—which is exactly what’s needed when practically everyone is working remotely at least some of the time. The result is a truly secure approach that involves application-level access, moving beyond network-level access. This decreases lateral attacks and facilitates an environment that’s “secure by default.”
SDP solutions set strong limits on remote users, giving them access only to specific services that each user really needs to get their job done. As a result, lateral network attacks become a thing of the past, relegated to VPN solutions.
While WFH is necessary in many cases to help keep workers safe and also offers the advantage of flexibility for employees, its growth requires new IT solutions that help safeguard the company’s data. Enterprise VPNs and firewalls may still stick around a while longer, but that doesn’t mean they’re the right choice for today’s work-from-home world. By eliminating your company’s network attack surface, you can protect your corporate office systems and data—as well as personal data—for a win-win that employers and employees alike can feel relieved about.