How do you drive remote workforce productivity, while also staying secure?

Digital transformation has long been driving productivity in businesses, even before the global pandemic blew through the world of work and scattered the global workforce into bedrooms and living rooms.

A recently released Gartner report on remote working outlined how web applications are so important to the output of a business, they form ‘the new work nucleus’. The report highlighted how deeply integrated these tools now are in the modern workplace, being used for everything from joint workspaces to board meetings.

How do you drive remote workforce productivity, while also staying secure?

Increased adoption in cloud applications leading to greater vulnerability

This is a trend which is well past the early adopter stage.  Fortune 500 companies the world over have embraced such applications. Dropbox, for example, now has over 14m users.

However, while online collaboration has obviously brought huge opportunities for increased productivity, left un-managed it can also be a drain on businesses.

As has been proven time and again, left to their own devices employees can end up making decisions which, at best, are a productivity drain and, at worst, a risk to the companies they work for. Examples range from the accidental sharing of documents to wasteful hours browsing the Internet, instead of working.

In fact, one survey found that a quarter of all workers spent a minimum of three months of the year secretly surfing the Internet while at work.

From a security point of view, so-called ‘shadow applications’ present an even greater risk –completely invisible to security teams, they create gaps in even the most well-managed security posture.  Every drag, drop and share becomes a source of potential data compromise.

Cloud applications also come bursting with the potential for an array of malicious attacks.  Probably the most common is the theft of login credentials and subsequent hijacking of accounts. Given such tools are often used to share sensitive IP, this can lead to valuable company information being stolen and used by criminals, competitors or even nation-state actors.

Another risk from the cloud application usage boom is the insider threat, authorised users misusing the information they have been granted access to, anything from sensitive plans to financial details.  This can either be malicious, such as stealing a database, or unintentional data leakage caused by accidentally sharing confidential information.

Attackers also now have more technical attacks against cloud applications in their arsenal.  For example, cloud-based malware injected directly into instances or more exotic zero-day vulnerabilities.

How can companies protect themselves whilst keeping their remote workforce productive?

Protection against this problem is part solid security hygiene and part deployment of specialised technology.

From a hygiene point of view, a solid policy designed to protect the business from the user is important.  While the contemporary IT environment should not strangle connected tools and applications, a policy must be created which provides the necessary guardrails.  Put simply, this should outline who can do what, for how long and when.

Defined correctly, this policy will underpin attempts to encourage productivity and lower risk, at the same time as reducing the risk from shadow software.

A CASB solution really comes into its own when enforcing the aforementioned policy, monitoring and proactively managing malicious activity or accidental data loss through cloud application use.  CASBs can be set up to analyse user actions on a granular level inside known and unknown collaboration and communication tools, to provide security teams with full visibility of all actions.

Deployed either with agents or gateways (or both), a CASB can be tailored in a variety of configurations dependent on company objectives.  This allows risk to be tightly managed for different situations.  For example, restricting access to certain files and folders against factors including the level and status of user, or time period, can mitigate risk while also enabling productivity.

Finally, a web filtering solution should be considered to steer users away from productivity sapping and potentially risky web content.  Deploying a progressive platform which allows for the quick building of policies and follow-the-user controls will provide the agility required to support the modern mobile workforce.

You can quickly and effectively use a combination of CASB, web filtering and strong security policy to drive productivity with the Censornet Platform.

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