As companies find themselves suddenly shifting to remote work due to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak, many employees are working from home for the first time. While not ideal from a security standpoint, there are simple steps you, and your employer, can quickly take to better secure your new working environment.

One of the easiest things you can do to better secure your home network is to ensure that your Wi-Fi and router passwords are strong. Specifically, ensure that you’re utilizing WPA2 or the most recently available security protocol on your Wi-Fi router. Also, consider using separate network access for your guest/family/IoT devices than your work Wi-Fi. If you want to go even further, think about implementing firewall rules and/or a DNS server.

If you must work outside of your home, first and foremost, practice social distancing! From a more technical perspective, use a secure VPN to add a layer of protection between your laptop and the public network you are accessing. Another option is to use your cell phone’s hotspot to facilitate your Wi-Fi connection.

Unfortunately, nefarious actors capitalize on situations like this to prey on our anxieties, insecurities and fears. Your company’s IT support team should never unexpectedly email you to ask for account information, home networking information, etc. Exercise excessive caution if someone contacts you in this manner. To see if the request is legitimate, do not call or email any numbers or addresses contained in the email. These may be false contacts designed to lure you further into their deception. Instead, call the number visibly published on your company’s intranet to contact the IT support department.  

Working remotely can be isolating in normal times, but even more so now as we practice social distancing outside of work. Cybercriminals may try to capitalize on our loneliness by ramping up their social engineering efforts. It is perfectly fine (and encouraged!) to replicate in-person interactions on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. However, be extra vigilant. Specifically, be wary of anyone who comes across too chummy or who asks a lot of questions about your work. Cybercriminals may even try to impersonate people you know to bait you into disclosing confidential data. Err on the side of caution and be sure to use the phone to verify the validity of requests before sharing sensitive information.

There are also several actions your employer can take right now to provide a flexible – and secure – home working environment.

Chances are that your company already has VPN access in place. However, the sudden shift to remote work is straining these systems originally intended for much smaller loads. To rapidly offload some of the traffic from strained corporate data centers, companies can shift onsite files to the cloud. A rapid file migration to a public cloud provider can be implemented in days rather than weeks.

Another way to maintain security while decreasing VPN load is to move high-volume workloads to the cloud. One example – shifting software development Continuous Integration (CI) pipeline to the cloud to help efficiently manage, test, and deploy applications. Keeping the CI pipeline in the cloud provides several advantages over on-prem solutions, such as enabling secure universal access, scalability, reliability and flexibility.

Data Analysis/Reporting capabilities are another cloud migration candidate, as they create high-volume traffic on a VPN. Companies can effectively offset this load by creating a data lake in a public cloud provider. Data lakes are simply a repository of raw data – creating one can be as simple as restoring a database backup in the cloud environment. Cloud-based visualization and analytics tools can work with data in the cloud without affecting VPN.

Many companies leverage cloud-based collaboration tools. To increase remote worker VPN speed, enterprises should consider implementing split-tunneling, which reduces VPN load by permitting natively encrypted traffic to bypass VPN. There are pros and cons to this approach, so a thoughtful examination is essential before implementation.

Finally, companies may want to consider a virtual desktop implementation. Sometimes called “Desktop as a (DaaS),” Virtual Desktop tools replicate the desktop experience from a web browser. By removing device dependencies, organizations enable increased security, scalability, and cost savings. Virtual desktop implementations can be rolled out quickly, effectively expediting the typically lengthy hardware procurement and implementation process.

Maintaining security in a remote environment requires commitments from both employers and their employees. However, there are simple steps that both groups can take now to effectively establish a safe and flexible work environment.