Adverse weather leads to debate on remote working and poses first IT security challenge of 2009

Opinion by Dan Raywood

This week saw freak snowstorms hit the UK with many people having to take a forced absence from work or school.

This week saw freak snowstorms hit the UK with many people having to take a forced absence from work or school. Not that you heard many people complaining about it of course.

However one voice that could have been heard with a tinge of frustration was that of the IT manager, as even though many were forced into working from home the question of how secure their remote networks are could be questioned.

The sector of security that SC Magazine normally covers predominantly relates to the corporate network and company operations, but on a day when so many will stay at home and use their personal PC or laptop, the question of how secure their temporary workstations and connections are would have to be asked.

Research from Mitel that was conducted late last year suggested that more than half of the country who regularly work in office environments would look for a reason to stay at home. In the survey of 1,000 UK employees, telephone calls (86 per cent) and email (85 per cent) were named as the most important tools.

So how can a usual office-based worker assure themselves and their company that their computer at home is secure enough to work on, especially if they are transmitting or working with sensitive information?

Steve Watts, co-founder of SecurEnvoy, said: “When weather sends the country into chaos, people need a way to keep working. While the web has made remote working a reality, the security issues associated with it can be too much for some firms.

“Planning ahead for these very British eventualities is key to the smooth running of a business. Not only will the losses to business be huge, it will take a long time to catch-up on lost ground.”

Watts claimed that the ability to keep on trading during a crisis, regardless of the circumstances, is essential for survival in a harsh business climate.

He said: “In order for businesses to remain in control, they have to give their people the freedom to work wherever they are. The ‘last mile' for companies looking to implement remote working is security. So if there was a way that security could be watertight, easy to support and simple to use, it would mean huge leaps forward for business continuity, and those leaps are critical when nobody is going anywhere.”

“Emergency situations are rare, but many businesses are unprepared when something goes wrong. Phones are not enough to keep a remote worker going – people want to be able to work as though they were in the office. Bad weather is unavoidable, but the response to such an emergency must be controlled, with users gaining secure access to their information until the panic is over.”

So are businesses really unprepared? In these times where ‘remote working' and ‘virtualisation' are such buzz words, surely the IT managers are taking notice and at least looking into the feasibility. After all, it never hurts to have a contingency plan for when things go awry, whether this is affected by weather, power failure or even worse circumstances.

Meanwhile, Symantec claimed that many workers were putting their corporate networks at risk' by logging in from home on possibly unsecured devices.

John Turner, vice president for pre-sales EMEA at Symantec, offered solutions on ways to make sure that if there are any problems with remote working, they do not compromise the corporate network.

Turner said: “There are two ways to ensure network security while working from home. The first is to have a remote desktop that doesn't require VPN connectivity. This protects the user, while also allowing updates to be downloaded when connected to the internet.

Secondly is to select a VPN that has network access control. This will allow your company to quarantine devices that are not up-to-date. It will allow access to systems such as email, but withholds access to important or secure files and servers. If you don't need to allow remote access to everything, then don't. This alone minimises a large risk.”

Symantec further claimed that there is no doubt that working remotely is one of the biggest areas of exposure when connecting to corporate networks, and any remote devices that connect to organisations infrastructure do carry a greater risk of infecting the network or becoming compromised.

Naturally this debate could, and probably will go much deeper into the quality of security for remote workers. A recent story claimed that while the BlackBerry was a secure tool, the Apple iPhone was not, and that it was creating headaches when it came to security management.

That is not to say that the smartphone is a perfect device for remote working or storage, as detailed here. As more people look to be able to work out of the office and virtualisation is such a hot topic, the adventures of this week have proved to be a first challenge of 2009 for IT managers when dealing with this area.


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