Discover Why Remote Access Security Is Vital for Businesses

Over the last two years, the COVID-19 pandemic caused a dramatic increase in remote work adoption, and it looks like this way of doing work is here to stay. A survey conducted by Owl Labs showed that 77% of respondents would be happier if they were able to work from home (WFH) after COVID-19. The same survey also showed that 75% of people had an equal or increased level of productivity in WFH setups.

While remote work does have several benefits for both employees and employers, it also opens a whole new set of risks. Many of those risks exist during remote access. If businesses can establish secure remote access, remote work can be just as secure as if employees are working onsite. In the following sections, we’ll elaborate more about remote access security concerns and how you can address them.

Learn about Secure Remote Access and Why It’s So Important

Before we define what secure remote access is, we need to define remote access first. Remote access is the ability to access digital assets such as applications and files from a location geographically separate from where those assets reside.

For example, when you log in to a server and download a file, when you use a cloud application, or when you connect to a virtual desktop through a remote desktop protocol (RDP) or virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) client and interact with files through that, you’re performing remote access.

So, basically, secure remote access is that same ability but protected by secure processes. For example, when a user requests access to your corporate server, you may verify that user’s identity first by asking for a username and password. Then once that user is logged in, you may limit access to files and folders that are associated with that user’s role.

Secure remote access is important because:

Address 6 Remote Access Security Concerns

There are several security-related concerns when users perform remote access. Let’s go over six major ones and discuss how you can address them.

1. Inadequate Remote Access Policies

Many companies use a virtual private network, or VPN, to provide secure remote access to employees. A VPN uses encryption to protect data as it traverses through the internet. That’s well and good. However, if steps aren’t taken to limit user access to only those company resources that are needed to complete that user’s individual tasks, the security provided by that VPN can be rendered useless if that account falls into the wrong hands.

To prevent hackers who happen to break into a legitimate user’s account (or malicious insiders) from moving laterally across the corporate network and accessing other company resources, businesses should incorporate the principle of least privilege into their remote access policies. This ensures that a user can access only resources needed to complete that user’s task and nothing else.

That’s not all. Your secure remote access policy should also incorporate provisions on which devices are used for access (e.g., you might limit access to company-managed devices), what company files can be downloaded, what applications can be used on the managed device, who to contact when the user suspects malicious activity, etc.

2. A Surge of New Devices to Safeguard

When companies ultimately decided to apply WFH strategies as a way of preventing employees from contracting the COVID-19 virus, some purchased laptops for those employees. Others adopted BYOD strategies, allowing employees to use their own personal devices for work-related tasks. Whichever route a company took, this meant there were more devices to secure—an added burden, considering that IT teams were already battling both usual and pandemic-related IT issues.

To reduce the workload of your IT teams, you should consider employing solutions that simplify the management (whether security-related or otherwise) of endpoint devices. A solution that allows you to apply endpoint security from a central location can be a big help.

3. Lack of Knowledge of Remote User Activity Threats

Since there is less visibility in the devices employees use in WFH setups, especially in the case of non-managed devices, IT teams have very limited (if any) knowledge about the vulnerabilities these devices have and threats they’re exposed to. Consequently, there’s very little they can do to secure them adequately.

Again, as mentioned in the previous section, it would help a lot to employ a solution that would simplify endpoint security. One example is VDI. In VDI environments, wherein files and applications are hosted in a central location, there’s not a lot of monitoring that has to be done on each individual device compared to traditional, non-VDI setups. We’ll elaborate more on this later.

4. Using the Same Personal and Business Passwords

Strong passwords are excellent in deterring brute-force-type attacks where hackers attempt to break into user accounts by “guessing” passwords. However, there’s another type of attack that strong passwords can’t stop. It’s called credential stuffing, an account takeover (ATO) attack that exploits the common malpractice of reusing passwords. Some people even reuse the same passwords for personal and business accounts.

The problem with reusing passwords is that, if one of your accounts (say, your Facebook account) is compromised in a data breach, the password of that account can be used by cybercriminals to access your other accounts in a credential stuffing attack. Thus, not only should your password policy require strong passwords, but it should also prohibit users from reusing passwords.

5. Phishing Attacks

One of the attack vectors cyber criminals use to steal login credentials (and other personal information, for that matter) is phishing. Since usually phishing attacks prey on fear, COVID-19-themed phishing attacks have been proliferating throughout the pandemic.

Now, to be clear, your users can be targeted in a phishing attack regardless of whether they’re working from home or in the office. The advantage of devices connected to the corporate network and behind the corporate firewall, though, is that they can be monitored and protected by security solutions and security teams who can detect and block suspicious emails. User-owned devices may not have that same protection.

To mitigate the risk of phishing, you can train users to identify potential phishing emails and avoid clicking links and attachments whenever they’re included in a suspicious email. If possible, you may also install email security software on their endpoint devices.

6. Open Wi-Fi Networks

So far, we’ve been focusing only on the security of endpoint devices that users directly interact with, such as PCs, laptops, phones, tablets, etc. They’re not the only ones that need to be secured. Wi-Fi routers, which those devices will most likely be connecting to before they connect to a server on the web, have to be secured as well.

If those routers are still using their default factory passwords, and if they’re not using security features like WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access), they can be compromised easily. Once an attacker somehow gets a hold of your Wi-Fi router, that attacker will be capable of intercepting your network traffic and acquiring sensitive information that goes through it, like your usernames and passwords.

You can mitigate the risks of open Wi-Fi networks by changing the default factory password (this is important because factory passwords are often shared in hacking forums) and by enabling WPA, WPA2, or WPA3. If your router doesn’t support the later versions of WPA yet, we suggest you replace that router with one that does.

Use Best Practices for Remote Access Security

Although we’ve already offered recommendations for addressing some of the concerns for remote access security in the previous section, there are certainly more things that can be done in that regard. Here are some of the best practices that you can also apply.

Multi-Factor Authentication

Password-based authentication has long been the go-to authentication method for end users. Unfortunately, it’s also the most highly targeted. That’s why there are attacks like brute force and credential stuffing. Cybercriminals are constantly looking for ways to break or circumvent login interfaces that use this type of authentication.

To strengthen your authentication process, you can augment password-based authentication with a second type of authentication, preferably one that uses a different factor. Basically, password authentication is based on something only the user knows. This is one factor of authentication. Other factors of authentication may be based on what the user has (e.g., a private key or token) or on what the user is (e.g., a fingerprint scan or facial recognition scan).

Thus, even if a hacker manages to acquire a user’s password, that hacker won’t be able to take over that user’s account if the login requires another factor of authentication (e.g., an SMS message sent to that user’s phone). By employing two or more factors of authentication, you can make it many times more difficult for an attacker to break into your users’ accounts.

SSL/TLS and Other Forms of Data-In-Motion Encryption

No matter how secure your endpoint device or login process is, if the network connection through which your data passes through is insecure, your account can still be compromised. A hacker eavesdropping on an insecure network connection can grab a user’s login credentials and then use those to login to that user’s account.

This can be prevented by employing data-in-motion encryption technologies such as Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) or Transport Layer Security (TLS). Make sure your RDP client or VDI client uses data-in-motion encryption as well.

More Security Education

The importance of security education or security awareness training can’t be overemphasized. Humans are the weakest link in the cybersecurity chain. Even if you have strong security solutions and policies in place, if your users aren’t using those solutions properly and are circumventing your policies, your defenses will be utterly useless.

Take time to educate and re-educate your users. By making them fully understand the consequences of insecure practices and by training them how to identify threats and leverage your security solutions, you can substantially improve not only your remote access security but your overall security as well.

Apply Security Audit Checks to Your Existing Systems

Once you’ve implemented security solutions, policies, and awareness training, don’t stop there. Security shouldn’t be confined to a point in time. It should be constantly maintained. One way to ensure you maintain an acceptable level of security is to carry out regular security audit checks. The idea is to verify whether all elements of your security program are functioning as they should at all times.

Here are some of the tests you can perform to check whether your remote access security is up to standard:

Strengthen Remote Access Security with Parallels RAS

In a recent study published by Parallels®, 87.2% of respondents said VDI was a crucial enabler of remote work during the pandemic. VDI is a technology that enables users to access applications and desktops remotely from endpoint devices such as PCs, laptops, thin clients, phones, and tablets.

VDI architecture is inherently secure because applications and data are hosted in a centralized location instead of being installed locally in endpoint devices. This has huge implications from a remote access security perspective.

First, IT teams no longer need to physically handle each endpoint device to perform security functions such as patching, hardening, or even installing security solutions. All those functions can be done in one place.

Second, because the applications and data aren’t stored in the endpoint devices, they remain safe even if a device is stolen.

Parallels® Remote Application Server (RAS) is a VDI solution that augments all these built-in security capabilities with additional layers of protection that include the following:

Strengthen your remote access security. Try Parallels RAS today!