COVID-19: The Rise of the Telecommuter & the Impacts on Businesses
Yesterday, I cancelled my in-person meetings for the next four weeks. We live about fifty miles from Travis Air Force Base, where many of the cruise ship passengers are in quarantine. We are beginning to see coronavirus (COVID-19) cases near our city and a rapid rise of cases in the places I was going to visit with customers – New Jersey and New York. I made these cancellations out of an abundance of caution for my family’s health and safety.
I have been a telecommuter for many years; when I am not traveling, I work from home. Many companies allow and some even encourage telecommuting. But is COVID-19 finally pushing telecommuting as an acceptable option, even for companies and cultures that previously frowned upon it?
Pandemics such as COVID-19 impact an organization’s network and security posture. As more users work remotely, it is important to evaluate your organization’s remote access, business continuity and cybersecurity measures.
It’s All About Access
In a typical office and on premise data center setting, the IT department has complete control over network access, internal networks, data, and applications. The remote worker, on the other hand, is mobile; he or she can work from a local coffee shop, while connecting to insecure wireless access, increasing the potential exposure to unsafe content that may impact a business.
For the remote worker, it’s all about access to the desktop and files, and applications and interaction with others, that they’d do on a regular basis. As users work remotely, they still need interaction and possibly team settings for shared responsibilities and work. The new generation of video conferencing technologies come very close to providing an “almost there” feeling, latency issues may be addressed using load balancing, web performance optimization and WAN acceleration techniques.
There are many excellent products that help remote users access files and applications remotely and provide ways of sharing large files and applications. Security implications, such as access over unsecured Wi-Fi networks, privileged access management, and scraping and snooping, may be addressed with one or more of the following: VPN, Single Sign On (SSO), and multi-factor authentication to validate and only let authenticated and authorized users in. For security of data at rest and in motion, businesses may deploy data leak prevention and encryption technologies.
Business productivity solutions (like Microsoft Office365, ZenDesk, Google Apps), gaming solutions such as Fortnight, video conferencing (WebEx and Zoom), and education and learning software such as Blackboard, are all seeing a spike in usage. Indeed, there is a huge jump in remote users accessing cloud-hosted solutions and educational institutions moving to online classes to reduce further infections by limiting contact.
Load Balancing is Critical
As businesses deploy business continuity, flexibility and cost savings measures by moving or replicating some of their core applications online–either to the public or private cloud– access to these applications is now through the internet, regardless of where they are located. Load balancing technologies can scale up these applications.
One of the ways cloud service providers (CSPs) can use automation is to optimize the cost of their application infrastructure by dynamically adjusting resource consumption to their actual utilization levels. As the number of users connecting to a particular SaaS application service grows, new instances of application services are brought online, automatically, in order to scale. Scaling-in and –out in an automated way, with the scale-in and –out of applications themselves, is one of the primary reasons why load balancers have built-in automation and integrations with orchestration systems.
CSPs realize that they are one service outage away from losing customers and that outages impact their brand. For all these solutions, user responsiveness is paramount and so are scalability and availability. Local and global load balancing solutions, along with WAN optimization, web performance optimization, compression and caching techniques, are important elements for these CSPs to implement disaster recovery scenarios and to reduce user latency.
As most CSPs host their solutions on the public cloud, they see huge price spikes due to increased consumption, cost of connections, SSL usage and other factors that impact pricing and margins for the hosted solutions. CSPs looking for economical solutions to quickly scale, automate and deliver a differentiated Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) must offer hybrid cloud solutions that span both their cloud and customers’ data centers. These offerings must address the following:
- Cost predictability for their organization, customers and tenants
- Reducing manual resource requirements through automation
- Solutions that span both private and public cloud infrastructures
The hackers are always looking for compromised online accounts and unsecured data on the public cloud, with the ultimate objective of ransom or stealing proprietary content, IP and currency. As hackers probe to gain access to sensitive data, you can protect business-critical assets and enhance your security posture by gaining visibility into multiple threat vectors using SIEM tools and analytics, and adopting security solutions such as SSL inspection, intrusion detection and prevention, network firewalls, DDoS prevention, identity and access management (IAM), data leak prevention (DLP), SSL threat mitigation, application firewalls, and identity management to prevent unauthorized access and data leaks.
As your organization tools up to enable remote users, whether as a design or as a response to a pandemic such as COVID-19, you will need to apply the same rigor that you applied to securing and scaling up your on premise applications, data and files. Your best practices should include latency reduction, global availability, network and application access enforcement, denial of service prevention and mitigation, application security and data leak prevention and visibility.