Apr 16, 2024

Remote Workforce – Cybersecurity Monitoring and Rapid Incident Response

In the remote work era, end user computers are no longer safely protected within corporate networks, diluting the effectiveness of conventional security measures designed for on-premises environments and an in-person workforce. This rapid evolution of the cybersecurity landscape has required major adjustments from security professionals within Information Security, Access Management, Service –Desk Management, Privacy, Legal, and more.

“Everything is more complicated and more spread out now. In purely on-premises arrangements, you knew where every device was,” said Clayton Riness, Tevora Principal Consultant. “Employees have more freedom today to work where and how they like. Our job is to make sure they are doing it safely with things like ’Always-On’ VPN, geolocation identifiers, and normalized working hours — and should an incident occur, we catch it and lock it down immediately.”

Remote Work Raises the Risk

One of the most significant challenges of remote work is the increased reliance on personal devices and unsecured networks. Many home Wi-Fi networks lack advanced security features, such as strong encryption and robust firewalls, creating an opportune environment for cyber attackers to intercept sensitive information or launch attacks against corporate systems.

“From the outset, we expect that remote users’ home networks are insecure,” explained Ben Dimick, Director of Security Implementation and Services for Tevora. “We can’t take the chance that an environment or network we didn’t personally supervise is safe. So, every device must have secure boot.”

That healthy skepticism aligns well with current best practices connected to the zero-trust security model. “Right now, my biggest recommendation for firms concerned about their remote employees is to wholeheartedly adopt zero-trust and device trust approaches,” Dimick continued. “There’s no more assuming any user or any device is trustworthy. Each must be verified over and over.”

Vulnerabilities in Remote Work Environments

The widespread adoption of remote work has unveiled a spectrum of attack vectors that bad actors are keen to exploit, from ransomware to spear-phishing and man in the middle schemes. These vulnerabilities stem from the decentralized nature of remote work, the reliance on personal and peripheral devices, and the shift away from traditional security models — all of which inevitably increase an organization’s attack surface.

For example, the integration of smart devices into home networks poses significant security risks. Printers, cameras, and even smart home appliances can be compromised and used as entry points or to move laterally within a network. These peripheral devices often lack robust security features and receive infrequent updates. Once an attacker has compromised a peripheral device on a home network, they can attempt to access devices used for work.

Primary devices are also a threat when not secured. “When the pandemic forced everyone to rush into remote work, employees weren’t ready,” said Tevora’s Anir Desai, Manager, Strategic Services. “They didn’t know what was and wasn’t safe and what they were and weren’t allowed to do with their devices. Consequently, a lot of people were increasing exposure, just as cybercrime was on the rise. Helping our clients with timely comprehensive trainings, education, and developing or enhancing acceptable use policies helped us significantly close that gap.”

Staying Secure and Compliant

Breaches and attacks are notorious for exposing organizations to operational downtime and reputational harms, but they also run the risk of steep penalties from a growing body of local, state, national, and international laws that protect user data and privacy.

“The first few things I Look at are the applicable regulations and privacy laws. Where is the company, where are the remote workers, and which laws apply, explained Anir Desai. “Next, I look at data governance, assess classification policies, and data loss prevention mechanisms to identify what kind of data is being transmitted or stored. Is it confidential, sensitive, or public?

My goal is to ensure that data is correctly tagged and the guardrails in place to keep it from prying eyes align with relevant privacy regulations and are understood by employees.”

The Remote Security Stack

As organizations continue to adapt to remote work, monitoring, detection, and response tools ensure that threats are identified and mitigated before they can cause significant damage. Proactive monitoring and detection require continuous scanning for and analyzing potential security threats to preemptively address them. Effective monitoring can identify suspicious activities, such as unusual login attempts or patterns of network traffic that may indicate a cybersecurity threat.

Ultimately, it takes a mosaic of technologies to deliver complete coverage. These systems work in concert to track issues that might be missed by a single factor analysis, and they add redundancy to overall security postures. “We take a defense in depth approach,” said Clayton Riness. “Every defensive system falls back to another. If one security measure fails, others are still in place to mitigate the threat.”

  • Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS) are essential for monitoring network and system traffic for suspicious activity. They can be configured to recognize the signatures of known threats or to detect anomalies, alerting IT staff to potential security issues. “IDS lets us monitor the right indicators — like geolocation, heuristics around login patterns that reveal deviations from historical norms, and other types of user behavior analytics — so that we can put them all together to spot anomalies that demand further study or an immediate response,” explained Riness. In the past, these systems were primarily network-based, but remote working environments tend to function more effectively with host-based IDS solutions.
  • Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) systems provide a comprehensive overview by aggregating and analyzing data from various sources across a network. They correlate events from different systems and identify patterns that may indicate a cyberattack. SIEM systems can also automate response procedures for certain types of incidents, reducing the time to mitigate threats.
  • Mobile Device Management (MDM) platforms secure employees’ mobile devices that are deployed across different service providers and operating systems. It allows for the distribution of applications, data, and configuration settings and patches for such devices, ensuring corporate data security and compliance.
  • Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) solutions monitor endpoint devices (e.g. laptops, tablets, and mobile phones) for signs of malicious activity. They are particularly valuable in remote work settings, where endpoints are the primary access points to the corporate network. In the opinion of Riness, EDR is one area not to cut corners on. “We only work with proven industry leaders like Crowdstrike and SentinelOne, because once you’ve detected a threat, it needs to be isolated without delay and a best-in-class EDR helps us do that.”
  • Data Loss Prevention (DLP) tools prevent unauthorized access or disclosure of sensitive information. They identify where sensitive data resides, track its usage and movement, enforce policies that control how it’s accessed or shared, and notify administrators of potential data breaches.
  • Virtual Private Networks (VPN) safeguard remote workers’ data from eavesdropping, but they are not without their own vulnerabilities, said Riness. “Patching and updates are the most basic way of keeping VPNs secure, but we also rely on our endpoint security. Only sanctioned devices with up-to-date certificates can access the VPN.” By coupling VPN use with access controls, the principle of least privilege, and network segmentation, organizations can enhance their security posture such that, even if attackers breach the outer defenses, their ability to cause harm is severely restricted.

In practice, every remote security tech stack has to be tailored to the organization that relies on it, but, according to Anir Desai, many of these elements are common across implementations. “Across the board, we mandate VPNs, data loss prevention tools, and mobile device management. We need to be able to remotely lock out anyone no matter where they are if a dangerous issue is detected. We also require logging and monitoring on devices so that we can identify potential security threats and respond to them promptly.”

Fast and Effective Incident Response

Response plans need to be both tailored to the unique challenges of distributed teams, but also broad enough to address the total range of security incidents that modern businesses face. “Protocols and procedures are essential,” explained Ben Dimick while also highlighting the importance of adaptability. “A smart plan is never written in stone. We have to be able to make adjustments and not be a slave to a procedure, especially given the wide diversity of industries, companies, and threats we are monitoring.”

Moreover, the plan has to be more than secure. It has to be actionable, practical, and seamlessly integrated into real world workflows. “Remote employees today generally know that cybersecurity should be a priority, but when there is too much friction in the process of keeping them safe, they are prone to look for workarounds that trade security for convenience,” Dimick said. “We go beyond arming our partners with the knowledge and tools they need by simplifying remote security and making it a positive experience.”

Tevora’s incident response program is built around seven core activities:

1. Preparation
  • Establish a Remote Incident Response Team: Assemble a team with clear roles and responsibilities, equipped with tools for remote collaboration and access to critical systems.
  • Develop Communication Plans: Create secure and reliable communication channels for incident reporting and response coordination, ensuring team members can connect from anywhere.
  • Implement Security Tools and Protocols: Equip remote workforces with necessary security software (e.g. antivirus, firewalls, VPNs) and establish protocols for regular updates and security checks.
2. Identification
  • Monitor for Indicators of Compromise: Utilize monitoring tools like IDS, SIEM, and EDR to detect suspicious activities indicative of a security incident.
  • Train Employees to Recognize Threats: Educate remote employees on identifying signs of phishing, malware, or unauthorized access, ensuring they know how to report these issues promptly.
3. Rapid Communication
  • Activate the Incident Response Team: Quickly mobilize the response team using predetermined communication channels once an incident is identified.
  • Notify Affected Parties: Keep stakeholders informed about the incident and expected impacts, maintaining transparency while safeguarding sensitive details.
4. Containment
  • Isolate Affected Systems: Temporarily disconnect affected devices from the network to prevent the spread of the threat.
  • Implement Short-Term Fixes: Apply patches or adjust firewall rules to limit the damage, while planning for a more permanent solution.
5. Eradication
  • Remove Threats: Eliminate malware, patch vulnerabilities, and close or secure compromised accounts.
  • Cleanse Affected Systems: Confirm that all malicious elements are removed from affected systems before reconnecting them to the network.
6. Recovery
  • Restore Systems and Data: Use backups to restore affected systems and data to their pre-incident state, ensuring they are no longer compromised.
  • Monitor for After Effects: Closely watch the recovered systems for signs of lingering issues or reinfection, adjusting security measures as necessary.
7. Post-Incident Analysis
  • Conduct a Review: Analyze the incident to understand what happened, how it was handled, and how similar incidents can be prevented or mitigated in the future.
  • Update Incident Response Plan: Refine the response plan based on lessons learned, improving protocols, tools, and training to better prepare for future incidents.

The Tevora Advantage

The shift towards remote work has undeniably transformed the cybersecurity landscape, demanding an innovative and robust approach to monitoring, incident response, and overall security postures. As the traditional perimeter of corporate networks dissolves into the vast, uncharted territories of home offices and public spaces, the strategies and technologies employed to safeguard these environments must also evolve.

Above all, it’s critical to find a partner that not only has the experience, expertise, and toolkit to support robust remote security, but which also aligns strategically with your goals. “What makes Tevora different is that we are at the right scale,” said Ben Dimick. “We’re not a faceless mega corporation or a tiny mom and pop. That means we aren’t beholden to agendas unconnected to security or tied to any one technology, but we have the resources to make impactful changes. That’s why we are able to always do what’s best for our clients.”

Tevora is your comprehensive cybersecurity resource. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you secure your remote teams.