The COVID-19 outbreak has impacted almost every business around the world in one fashion or another. While it remains to be seen if its influence will have an enduring effect on the way organizations manage their workforce in the future, for the time being, it’s clear that the situation will be anything but business as usual for their cloud data and cloud security architecture.
What the COVID-19 Outbreak Means for Your Workforce
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread, it’s more important than ever for employers to be proactive about taking steps to limit exposure, both for employees and customers. The CDC has released extensive guidelines for businesses to help them implement these policies, but the one recommendation that has received the most attention by far is the transition to a remote workplace. According to data compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 30 percent of American workers could do their jobs remotely. While the number of people working from home has been rising steadily over the last two decades, the COVID-19 outbreak has effectively kickstarted a large-scale national experiment for the virtual workplace.
For many professionals, this will mean using the latest communications technology and collaborative tools to find ways to work effectively with others. Luckily, cloud computing services have made it possible for people to access data and applications from almost anywhere, allowing them to work from home and coordinate with their teams without sacrificing much in the way of productivity. Even for organizations that continue to host their networks on physical servers in a colocation data center or in managed virtual machines, the ability to connect these networks to a variety of cloud platforms through hybrid and multi-cloud deployments ensures that working from home provides just as much versatility and control as employees might find in the office.
With some careful coordination and guidelines in place to ensure accountability, a remote workforce can be every bit as effective as a team working from the same physical location. For many organizations, however, the biggest concern with transitioning to a virtual workplace isn’t about whether or not employees will be able to be productive. They also need to make sure they take the appropriate steps to ensure that their cloud data remains safe and secure.
How to Ensure Your Employees are Accessing Cloud Data Safely While Working Remotely
Accessing cloud data remotely introduces a range of security risks that many organizations don’t have the controls in place to manage. That’s because in most cases, employees access cloud computing data from the context of a secure network environment. Office networks are typically well protected by firewalls and secure internet connections. Even if the office uses WiFi, the routers that serve as those connection points are secured. From a physical security standpoint, it’s also difficult for someone outside the organization to connect to the company network because they would have to be inside the building. Finally, employees generally use devices and equipment that is owned and controlled by their employer, which ensures that all devices feature the latest updates and patches in terms of security software and operating system configurations.
Most of these protections go away once employees step foot outside the office. Even if employees are required to log into a company network before accessing cloud data, they may be doing so from an unsecured internet connection using a personal device with outdated security software. In a worst-case scenario, they might even be using a device that’s already infected with malware (such as enterprise-crippling ransomware). Given the substantial risks associated with a data breach, it’s imperative that employers take a number of steps to secure their own networks and whatever cloud computing services they utilize.
Set up a VPN
The very first step every organization should take, regardless of its network situation, is to set up a virtual private network (VPN) for remote employees. Long considered one of the most effective strategies for maintaining data security, a VPN effectively creates a secure tunnel that employees can use to access the company’s network. The enterprise cloud security measures that keep that network safe can be extended into this tunnel, ensuring that employees can’t simply log in without going through some kind of checkpoint that filters out potential dangers. Anyone trying to access cloud data, for instance, will have to first log into the VPN and be subjected to cybersecurity screening measures. Setting up a VPN is one of the best ways to account for the wide range of risks employees might be exposed to in a remote environment.
Review and Approve Devices
Unsecured personal devices are a threat to any organization’s cloud data management no matter where they are. That’s because there’s often no way of knowing where a device has been, what data security measures it has in place, or what it’s been exposed to previously. A personal laptop, for example, may have an outdated operating system that offers no protection against the latest generation of malware. When that computer connects to a network, it could unwittingly allow malicious programs to spread. Ideally, remote employees should be issued devices that have been prepared and approved by the organization’s IT team. If that’s not possible, employees should either have their personal devices approved for use or they should be required to take a variety of steps to ensure that their devices are safe for use (by installing security software and updating patches, for example).
Reassess User Access
Shifting to a remote workforce is the perfect time for an organization to reassess its access controls when it comes to cloud data management. After all, not every employee needs to have access to all data, especially for a larger company with multiple departments and cloud platforms. Someone on the development team, for example, doesn’t have any reason to access payroll data, just as someone in marketing probably doesn’t need to use sales team applications. Restricting user access based on employee role can greatly reduce the risk of a compromised account spreading laterally throughout the network. This is especially important for an organization using multiple cloud platforms.
Sometimes the simplest solutions are the most effective. When an organization transitions to a remote workplace, the first question it should ask is whether or not employees understand the role they play in keeping sensitive data secure. Do they know not to leave their computer open and logged into their account when they’re not working? Or are they aware of the latest phishing and malware scams being used to compromise network systems? This is especially important in a crisis situation like the COVID-19 pandemic, where information is changing rapidly and creating ample opportunity for cyberattackers to capitalize on the confusion. Employees should know how to access cloud data properly and what their responsibilities are for managing that data while they’re working with it. While this form of cybersecurity education should be an ongoing point of emphasis in the best of times, it’s especially critical for a remote workforce because many employees may not understand how the shift to a virtual workplace will impact cloud security considerations.
Secure Your Cloud Data with DSM
As organizations shift to working remotely, DSM has the resources and expertise they need to keep their data and critical applications secure. Whether it’s implementing and managing a secure private cloud or deploying a range of security services to protect enterprise networks from threats, our experienced team can help companies get their remote workplace up and running without endangering business continuity. Contact us today to find out how we can help your organization go virtual with confidence.