The pandemic has changed the world and turned peoples lives upside down. Businesses and employees have had precious little time to prepare as offices were closed, travel and commuting unless essential restricted and many were forced to work from home. People had to learn new working practices of remote working, and there is a constant pressure for tech teams to keep their workforce both fully operational and completely secure.
Our team thought it would be worthwhile to talk about our experiences of having worked remotely for the last eight years with and share tips and advice for IT teams who are now responsible for it in their businesses.
UPDATE 1 - 9 April 2020:
Cybercriminals are always on the hunt for new ways to break into your network systems. Similar to using COVID-19 spread maps to target and localise their scamming and phishing (see below), they are also monitoring the rising popularity of VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure) software and protocols - and the attacks and penetration attempts on this popular work from home system has risen sharply by 30%. In case you are using this solution, as always stay safe, update frequently (as soon as a new version of software is available), and consider using it over secure VPN connections (see below, and here).
Here are a few tips and advice to start with:
1 - Beware of phishing, scamming and cyber attacks
Cyber criminals are using the pandemic outbreak to hunt for every opportunity to enrich themselves, and always at the financial cost of a company, or organisation and worse still putting lives at risk. For example a Czech hospital, one of the largest national centre for COVID-19 testing, was hit by a cyberattack. The implications of that attack do not bear thinking because of the direct impact it had for patients and the health teams on the frontline trying to manage the pandemic.
It's essential to continually remind employees working remotely to always check every email and each link they click on. Criminals are taking advantage of the confusion of recent days and sending increasing sophisticated phishing emails when people are only just getting used to their new working practices.
Cyber criminals also use live pandemic spread maps to direct their malware delivery and spamming efforts worldwide. Sure enough, my spam filter caught a sudden surge of COVID-19 related spam emails in the last few days.
Don't allow your workforce get caught out - there are excellent tips and advice here on how to protect employees against phishing attacks and it's well worth using these to send out a reminder to always be vigilant. It only takes one slip and hackers get in, that is is a message that needs to be repeated again and again.
We are always available for a chat if you wanted to speak with our verified ISO 27001 and Cyber Essentials Plus experts. Whatever the issue is or your concern, we are 100% here for businesses during these tough times.
Call us on 020 3745 7706 or email [email protected] and someone will get back to you.
2 - Protect your network traffic
Whilst it's always a good idea to protect network traffic generated by your public services (e.g. web server) by using HTTPS, this is not what we are focusing on here.
Our focus is about protecting the traffic generated from maintaining and operating your IT estate, and especially that part that is managed/hosted by AWS, Azure, or any other IaaS cloud provider. This traffic carries some of the most business sensitive information, so it needs to be especially safeguarded. While this is often done by establishing a site-to-site IPSec VPN connection between your office and your IT service hosted elsewhere, remote working in times of lock down would not be protected by this solution. As it looks as if semi-permanent working from home is here to stay, it's worth reading about - there's a lot more information to be found on the ZDNet.com site here.
There are two possible solutions to this:
- To roll out a VPN solution allowing your employees to connect safely to your office network, and from there to connect via the site-to-site VPN connection to your IT services. Cumbersome, but doable.
- Alternatively, extend or deploy site-to-site VPN connections between your remote IT infrastructure and your employees, combined with provisioning fixed IP addresses for your employees' broadband connection. This way, you can control network traffic paths and further secure access to your IT infrastructure from known origins.
Fixed IP addresses, if not already part of your employees' ADSL broadband connection cost as little as £1 per month, depending on the provider. That small, almost undetectable cost in your IT budget goes a long way in helping securing your IT infrastructure in times of COVID-19 lockdown.
As part of the DCL managed hosting services we are offering all our customers a 5-connection remote worker VPN bundle for free. Check your hosting supplier is also offering something similar and if they're not, then contact them to ask for it. This is an essential safeguard for all businesses.
3 - Use online collaboration tools: Slack, Discord, Microsoft Teams
Apart from using shared source code repositories such as GitHub (or self-hosted or cloud managed alternatives from Google, Azure, GCP and others) your teams need to communicate. This is where Slack and other online co-working tools come in handy.
Highly integrable, these tools offer both chat and voice communications. Almost all can be used as a web app (via the browser), stand-alone app, or as a mobile app. Voice quality is usually good, depending on the available network bandwidth.
These tools can be integrated with a multitude of services, such as:
- Online collaboration tools (e.g. Google Suite, Ms Office 365, Zoho)
- DevOps toolchains (e.g. Jira, Jenkins, GitHub)
- Service Desk solutions (e.g. Zendesk, Freshdesk, and many others)
- Sales and CRM solution (e.g. Pipedrive, Hubspot)
Automated scripts (also known as chat bots) provide easy solutions to cumbersome repetitive tasks such as automatic channel assignment, daily summaries, and other little helpers.
The right co-working tool should provide an experience similar to day-to-day office groups. Choose a tool that scales well with the number of chats and audio/video channels and also provides a broad spectrum of integrations with other apps and services.
4 - Don't forget the "last mile"
The best remote working preparation quickly becomes futile if employees have insufficient network bandwidth at home. Video connections lag or freeze, and in the midst of an important call, someone's voice starts cutting in and out. Irritating for the person who is trying to speak and frustrating for the others having to listen.
As not everyone lives in cities or towns or places where fibre optics usually provide enough bandwidth to the home. More often though, particularly in rural areas, single-strand twisted copper wires are the norm.
These are relatively easy to resolve:
- Consider supporting your employees in lock down with an upgraded 'business service' broadband package that includes a (much) lower contention ratio. It also gets priority over the network.
- Consider paying for a fixed IP address for your employees in remote work as that helps with securing remote access to your IT infrastructure (see above). Fixed IP addresses come in as low as £1 per IP address per month.
- Look to see what performance is like over 4G as that may be better bandwidth than broadband.
5 - Ensure adequate remote work equipment!
Last but not least, the health and safety of your employees should be a concern as well. Supplying a laptop is almost never enough. Did you know that the HSE (UK Government Health and Safety Executive) oversees clear regulations for the health and safety for working with display screen equipment?
Laptop keyboards and screens are not designed for hours of screen work; for that you need an external ergonomic keyboard, an external mouse, a separate monitor, and a good-quality headset. Add in an adapter cable, and for as low as £150 - £200 on top of the laptop cost you have a decent set of remote working equipment available to your remote working employee. They will thank you for it.
- Display screen work is regulated by the HSE, and is also enforced for employees working from home.
- Invest in a standardised set of additional equipment, and scale it over all remote working employees
- Alternatively set a budget and let employees decide on which equipment (following baseline rules) they buy.
We hope that this little overview of how to start working from home in times of COVID-19 has given some food for thought on how to tackle the new working norm we all face.
And remember as well, DCL is always here to help you.