When the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of offices worldwide, many companies that hadn’t previously considered remote access to their corporate networks and servers had to do so quickly.

Moreover, with the popularization of hybrid cloud systems and Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) policies, the risk vectors related to remote access have increased significantly. More people can connect to more systems remotely and do so more often.

Maintaining business operations in these new environments while protecting data against unauthorized access puts many businesses on unfamiliar ground. The situation demonstrates why organizations should develop a robust remote access policy, ideally before you ever need to use it.

What is a Remote Access Policy?

Over the last decade, rapid technological advancements have fueled remote employment growth. Salespeople, for example, can use mobile devices to remotely access their office networks while visiting clients to bring up critical data for completing transactions. The proportion of remote employees has increased to 42 percent of the U.S. workforce.

Remote work, however, introduces new concerns, such as possible computer and network security issues. As a result, guidelines for remote access and other rules are needed to reduce cybersecurity and information security risks.

A remote access policy guides off-site users who connect to the network. It expands the rules that govern network and computer use in the office, such as the password policy or network access control. It assures that only those users who require network access are granted access as long as their devices are likewise compatible with the rules.

When correctly deployed, a remote access policy is a security solution that helps to protect the network from potential security risks. The policy should include everything, from the individuals who may be granted network access outside the workplace to the devices that can connect to the network.

Why is a Remote Access Policy Important?

A remote access policy is vital to ensure that your organization can maintain its cybersecurity protocols even with all the uncertainty that remote access brings: unknown users (you can’t see the person, after all).

Those are significant risks, but life during the coronavirus pandemic has made extensive remote access unavoidable. Some users must have remote access to perform their duties from home and maintain business continuity. Remote access policies guide how your data can remain secure, and your operations can meet regulatory compliance obligations.

The good news is that organizations such as the National Cybersecurity Society (NCSS) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have developed remote access policy templates that can be helpful if you’re writing your policy from scratch.

This post will review what a remote access policy should achieve, how to develop one, and several pitfalls to avoid.

Types of Remote Access Security Risks

The following are some of the most prevalent security risks associated with remote access.

Permissive Policies of Remote Access

Attackers can quickly acquire access to the rest of the network if they compromise a VPN (Virtual Private Network).

Historically, many businesses required VPNs only for technical responsibilities and otherwise restricted access to critical IT systems. Today, all users, including non-technical professionals, may connect to systems remotely through VPN.

Zero Trust Network access (ZTNA) is an approach that assures that every user and device connected to the network only obtains access to the services that the user requires.

Remote Devices Control

After the COVID-19 pandemic and the increasingly remote workforce, numerous enterprises were forced to buy computing equipment and provide it to their remote workers or have employees purchase it, resulting in potential supply chain vulnerabilities.

Other companies chose the Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) approach, allowing workers to accomplish tasks using personal or home devices.

The proliferation of new devices provides security personnel with new hurdles. First, they must ensure that the devices are free of malware and viruses. Whether a BYOD device or a corporate device that an employee uses remotely, the business must guarantee that security technologies can be installed, controlled, and maintained remotely.

One major issue with BYOD is that companies typically do not continuously monitor the device or install security software due to user objections. As a result, determining the original condition of a BYOD device and whether it has been infected or tampered with by attackers can be challenging.

Remote Activity with Limited Visibility

Endpoint devices must be monitored in a remote work environment to avoid transmitting malware, file-less attacks, and other dangers to distant users.

Security teams, however, might need more insight into remote user activities and cannot monitor other traffic on remote networks, making sophisticated attacks challenging to identify. This increases the risk of attackers accessing a remote device, connecting to corporate assets, and moving laterally to infiltrate more systems.

Security analysts, like other workers, are now working from home, making it even more challenging to research threats and manage endpoint detection and response. This confluence of issues makes it easier for attackers to avoid detection.

Reusing Passwords

Users have a terrible habit of reusing passwords, regardless of the hazard that their password might be stolen from one website and then leaked to the dark web, where attackers will use it to access the user’s other accounts – including corporate systems.

What is the Purpose of a Remote Access Policy?

A remote access policy clarifies how the company will provide cybersecurity while users access data off-site. This includes what is expected of users as they access that data, how they establish secure connections, when exceptions to policy may be granted, and likely disciplinary actions for violations.

A remote access policy aims to keep corporate data safe from exposure to hackers, malware, and other cybersecurity risks while allowing employees the flexibility to work from remote locations.

  1. It Defines How to Secure Remote Access

Older modems and public WiFi connections are notorious for lacking cybersecurity and should be trusted by others. Remote access should be granted via a Virtual Private Network (VPN) with encryption and strong user passwords to protect data and control access. The company should strive to use the best remote access technology available.

  1. It Defines How Remote Workers Should Respect Cybersecurity

Remote users must always protect their passwords and usernames: no notes with passwords taped to the device, even when they only work from home. You may add a Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) process to protect against unauthorized use of company hardware and VPN connections.

Set VPNs to terminate when they’re no longer active so an unauthorized user can’t gain easy access on a laptop mistakenly left open.

  1. It Defines What a Secure Connection is

Safe remote access depends on a secure connection and the appropriate use. Authorized users of any internal network typically adhere to an acceptable use policy, which defines which activities are prohibited while using the company network.

Those same rules apply to remote access workers, and compliance should be carefully monitored and enforced. It might be easy to forget that you are working on the company network when sitting in your living room.

The remote access policy should also clearly state which software and firewalls may be used by those with remote network access and how often operating systems, security software, and anti-virus protections should be updated.

The IT department can manage such tasks when everyone is present in the exact physical location. Employees may need to do some of this work in a remote access world. Your policy should explain the required routines.

  1. Limits Remote User Access to Only What’s Needed

A critical goal of the remote access policy is to divide remote users into groups defined by the access level they need. Nobody should be allowed a higher access level because that person now works remotely. Not only does this make managing remote workers easier, but it also allows you to stop a cyberattack more quickly when one account has been compromised.

Key Issues a Remote Access Policy Should Address

Addressing critical issues within this policy framework lays the foundation for a secure remote working environment. Here are the fundamental elements that a robust remote access policy should encompass:

  1. Access Control and Permissions: Clearly define and limit remote access privileges based on job roles and internal systems, ensuring users only have the necessary access.
  2. Security Measures: Mandate VPN usage, firewalls, and updated security software for all remote connections. Emphasize encryption policies to protect sensitive data.
  3. Policy Compliance: Enforce regular software updates, password policies, and immediate reporting of lost or stolen devices. Ensure user understanding and compliance.
  4. Endpoint Security: Establish guidelines for securing personal and company devices used remotely. Monitor devices, maintain security software, and ensure remote device compliance.
  5. Training and Disciplinary Actions: Conduct regular cybersecurity training for remote workers. Clearly outline repercussions for policy violations, including potential termination.

Secure Remote Access Best Practices

Here are a few best practices you can use to improve security for a remote workforce.

Remote Access Security Policy

The policy should indicate which methods should be used for remote access, which equipment is permitted to access (company-owned or BYOD), how those devices may be used, and the process for reporting and deleting lost or stolen devices.

Here’s a quick checklist to keep in mind as you develop your remote access policy:

  • Define what a secure password is, how often it should be changed, and how the remote user should protect it.
  • Define what a secure connection is and who’s responsible for providing it.
  • Define what types of hardware a remote user may connect to the company network.
  • Establish a schedule and procedure for software updates.
  • Divide users into subgroups depending on the access each group needs.
  • Monitor and make sure remote users comply with guidelines.
  • Spell out the level of disciplinary action that may be taken if established guidelines are violated.

Endpoint Monitoring and Protection

As companies incorporate Zero-Trust Network Access (ZTNA), Remote Browser isolation (RBI), Firewall as a Service (FWaaS), Data Loss Prevention (DLP), and other cloud-based security services, many business firms are seeking more than simply a proxy service in the cloud.

Data Encryption

Ensure all data is encrypted during transit and at rest on an employee’s local device. Encryption is an additional security line along with anti-virus and secure multi-factor authentication procedures. Even if attackers hack the machines, sensitive data cannot be accessed.

Cybersecurity Awareness Training

Conduct training on cybersecurity protocols regularly. You must inform every employee of security regulations, the repercussions for breaking them, typical social engineering attacks, and how to recognize the signs and prevent them.

How Often Should I Update My Remote Access Policy?

The landscape of technology and cybersecurity evolves rapidly, demanding constant vigilance in maintaining your remote access policy’s relevance and effectiveness. But how frequently should you update it to ensure it remains in sync with the latest developments?

  1. Regular Reviews: A fundamental practice is to conduct a comprehensive review of your remote access policy at least annually. This routine check ensures alignment with evolving standards in information security, encryption policies, and acceptable use policy compliance.
  2. Adaptive Updates: Any significant shifts within your organization or technological advancements, such as implementing new remote access technologies, changes in network security, or updates in VPN capabilities, necessitate immediate revisions to the policy.
  3. Incident-Based Updates: Security incidents or breaches should prompt an immediate review of your policy. Analyzing these events helps identify vulnerabilities in your remote access connections and allows for necessary endpoint security enhancements against malware and unauthorized access.
  4. User Feedback and Training: Continuous feedback from remote users regarding the usability and practicality of the policy is invaluable. Regularly integrating this feedback and providing updated training sessions on authentication protocols and access control can significantly enhance policy effectiveness.
  5. Compliance and Regulations: Ensure your policy remains aligned with the latest security regulations and cybersecurity standards set by regulatory bodies. Staying updated on encryption policies, firewalls, and secure remote access connection options is vital to avoid potential exposure and maintain confidentiality.

By integrating these practices into your policy management, you establish an agile and robust remote access policy that aligns with evolving remote work scenarios while safeguarding against unauthorized use and potential security risks.

Manage Cybersecurity Risks With ZenGRC

Many technologies may assist in keeping your business safe and your data private while you carve a route for your company in our highly interconnected world. ZenGRC is an easy-to-use platform that delivers the tools you need to maintain compliance and protect your organization.

ZenGRC can document security policies, incident response procedures, and internal controls and update regularly to ensure they meet the evolving cybersecurity environment. ZenGRC’s document repository makes policies and procedures revision-controlled and easy to find.

There will be no more searching for documentation, skimming over communications, or shifting between screens: ZenGRC’s cohesive, at-a-glance monitoring systems make implementing data security checklists a worry-free experience.

Book a demo today and start with the worry-free path to cybersecurity. The Zen way!