The importance of endpoint security
Working from home has been surprisingly effective during the pandemic, but it has also highlighted how essential strong endpoint security is for remote worker devices
If there has been one positive development from the pandemic this year, it has been how many employees and companies discovered that they could work from home effectively. As the strictest rules to stay in your house have lifted, employees haven’t felt the urge to flock back into the office, because they have enjoyed the flexibility of being at home and productivity hasn’t suffered as expected. Global Workplace Analytics now estimates that 25-30 per cent of workers in the US will continue to work from home post-pandemic, indicating a huge shift in working habits, with mostly positive effects.
But allowing your employees to work from home opens a whole new can of worms for security, creating a huge potential headache for your IT department that is much more difficult to deal with. When employees are operating in the office they are within a controlled environment, easily kept secure by being inside a private network. In order to attack office desktops and other endpoints to steal data, it would first be necessary to get through the company firewall and other network security systems. IT administration staff will also have direct physical access to office-based machines so they can apply patches while ensuring that software and operating systems remain healthy or investigate any potential breaches.
Home workers, on the other hand, are accessing the outside world and company resources over a public network – the Internet. They might have a firewall on their home router but may not have this set up correctly and it is unlikely to be as powerful as the corporate provisions. They may even be using public WiFi, with even greater possibilities for compromise. Even if you use a VPN to encrypt the connection between a remote worker’s computer and corporate resources, that doesn’t mean the remote computer itself will be safe. If an employee uses their business equipment for activities other than pure work – and it’s hard to stop them outside the office – the system could be compromised. Business software could then be accessed nefariously, and valuable data stolen or damaged.
This means that the endpoints employees use at home are much more vulnerable to attack than ones within the safety of the office. In fact, 46 per cent of global businesses have encountered a cyber security scare due to the shift to remote working during the pandemic, according to research by Barracuda Networks. Those looking to compromise corporate networks and steal data also know about the shift to remote work during the pandemic and have sniffed an opportunity. There has been a documented increase in the intensity of phishing attacks, for example, in the hopes of catching out vulnerable employees who are outside the safety of the office and its protected corporate network.
The wide range of remote working tools has left home employees open through a number of different channels. Video conferencing software has frequently been reported to have been compromised, with unwanted guests on calls. Phishing emails and text messages have attempted to catch employees off guard, thinking they are being contacted by their company. A lot of this comes from mixing personal and work devices and software. While company systems may have robust passwords as a requirement, software used for personal activities may not. While corporate endpoints are kept secure with the most up-to-date software patches, employees probably won’t do the same for their own home systems.
Having solid, dependable security on the devices your employees are using remotely is therefore essential, and this is where the Intel vPro® platform can provide a reliable foundation. Rather than creating your own incoherent collection of applications and devices, the Intel vPro® platform brings together an integrated suite of hardware and software to protect the remote worker, whether they’re working from home or another location outside the office. Intel® Hardware Shield includes protection below the level of the operating system and is part of the “Secured-core PC” initiative with Microsoft and OEMs. This provides resilience against attacks at the firmware level and robust identity protection features. It also offloads routine security functions to reduce user impact on productivity, and includes advanced threat mitigation technologies such as Accelerated Memory Scanning that use machine learning heuristics to detect threats in active memory.
The vPro® platform also includes Intel® Active Management technology, allowing the company’s IT department to administer the computer remotely. This includes managing software, repairing problems, monitoring and restoring via Intel® Endpoint Management Assistant (Intel® EMA). Using this platform, the remote worker’s system can be kept up-to-date and secure, or fixed in the unlikely event it is compromised, even if the device is powered off, with only a Wi-Fi network connection. Intel vPro® platform devices are validated to be a stable hardware platform for at least 15 months so IT staff know what they will be accessing remotely, too.
The Intel vPro® platform isn’t just about security, either. It also ensures business-class performance right out of the box, alongside all-day battery life. Remote working overlaps considerably with the longstanding issues around “bring your own” (BYO) devices, where employees will tend to use their own equipment if it is perceived to be better than what is supplied by their company. Ensuring that mobile devices in particular meet with employee performance and battery endurance expectations means that they will use them rather than their own, much less secure alternatives.
The security perils of home working might seem like a reason to encourage employees to return to the office as soon as possible, where security is much more manageable. But with the vast majority of home workers during the pandemic claiming equal or increased productivity, while also reducing the need for so much expensive office space, it will be hard to turn back from the trend towards working from home. Around 80 per cent of workers found health and wellbeing improvements, and even more felt it gave them a better work-life balance. Working from home is here to stay, employees generally like it, and in most cases, productivity is equal or better than when tied to an office space. With dependable security in place, it can be a pure benefit for employees without the potential downsides.
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