The Work-From-Home Genie Is Out of the Bottle: Now How Do You Add in Security?

Published on May 19, 2020

Crises have a way of shifting priorities, fast. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, companies that had expected their workers to show up at a particular place to do their jobs all of a sudden scrambled to enable most or all of their employees to work from home.

Any earlier reluctance companies had about allowing people to work from home – fears about corporate security, concern that out-of-sight employees would goof off and be less productive, practical doubts about the technology involved – has been pushed aside by the pandemic crisis.

And so the work-from-home genie shot out of its bottle. Interestingly, companies might not be enthusiastic about cramming it back in the bottle, even if they could. Reasons why include:

  • Productivity not only isn’t crashing, but in many cases is actually higher than before.
  • Expensive on-site resources such as high-end workstations can be leveraged 24/7 by people accessing them in different time zones or shifts.
  • Fewer on-site employees mean companies can reduce their facility costs.
  • Workers slash their commuting time and costs, which also has positive environmental effects.
  • Companies can find it easier to attract and retain workers, especially millennials, who appreciate the greater work/life balance they can enjoy by working from home.

Security Got Left Behind

However, in their rush to put work-from-home strategies in place under crisis conditions, many organizations didn’t have the luxury of prioritizing important infrastructure and security issues. They often turned to virtual private networks (VPNs), Microsoft RDP (Remote Desktop Protocol), or virtual network computing (VNC). All are notoriously difficult and time-consuming to implement, configure, manage, and scale, especially quickly. Or they adopted various videoconferencing and collaboration tools where security and privacy issues have not been fully vetted.

Making Security the Priority

Now that it looks like working from home could become a new norm, it’s time to step back and revisit the remote work infrastructure and tools to make sure they perform as needed over the long haul.

The #1 priority must be security. Already, concerns about privacy and security have caused schools and companies to ban the use of Zoom videoconferencing. And while VPNs tout their security capabilities, the reality is that VPN security depends on company-issued devices as well as manual updating of infrastructure and software. Last month, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) warned: “As VPNs are 24/7, organizations are less likely to keep them updated with the latest security updates and patches.”

To put it more simply, assuming that VPNs are the best way to enable employees to work from home is actually wrong. Dangerously wrong. In fact, legacy VPN was never designed nor optimized for remote desktop access.

What’s the alternative? Solutions designed specifically for remote access, and in particular remote-access solutions that offer the robust security that organizations will need as more of their people are working from home.

What should you look for in a secure, scalable, high performance remote desktop access solution? Here are some criteria:

  • Single sign-on (SSO) capability, ensuring employee passwords meet compliance and security requirements
  • Device authentication; most VPNs do not have this capability
  • Multi-factor authentication
  • Support for BYOD (bring your own device) rather than requiring remote users to use company-issued devices to ensure security
  • Click-and-connect capability, as opposed to the painful setup, long times to connection, and often slow performance of VPN-based solutions
  • Automated infrastructure and software updates, because relying on manual updating, as is necessary with VPNs, not only exposes security risks but also causes downtime and compatibility issues
  • High-performance, low-latency solutions, able to support streaming HD video, thus improving user productivity
  • Fast, easy scalability for thousands of users
  • The ability for IT to control file transfers and remote print (i.e., disabling or enabling them)
  • Human-readable logs, session recording, and easy monitoring and reporting

With COVID-19, the work-from-home genie is definitely out of the bottle. So it’s important to choose powerful remote access solutions that can not only help you weather this immediate storm, but also make working from home a positive part of successful organizations long after this pandemic crisis has passed.

Mark Lee is a contributor for Grit Daily and the founder, CEO and chief evangelist at Splashtop, a remote access and support software company based in San Jose, Calif. A longtime entrepreneur, Mark is an expert on mobile, cloud, open source and educational technologies. He holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in electrical engineering and computer science from MIT.

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