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Challenges to overcome when returning to the office

by jcp

By Tony Fergusson, director transformation strategy at Zscaler

Although the last 18 months have been full of restrictions and constraints, governments across Europe have started loosening COVID-related restrictions due to the significant rise in vaccination levels. This is one of the primary reasons why many organisations are encouraging employees to return to the office environment. Despite this, another huge change for employees can present a number of security challenges for IT teams within said organisations. For example, when work from home restrictions were implemented last year, organisations were simply not equipped to provide secure remote connectivity to applications in multi-cloud environments and the data centre.

To avoid connectivity and security challenges, organisations can adopt a zero-trust approach, with processes such as zero-trust network access (ZTNA) or software defined perimeter (SDP). This has been being highly effective in defending corporate networks from cyberattacks. In addition, the following five tips will help teams prepare for returning to the office.

  • Understand the risk of compromised devices

IT teams should be aware that they may lack insight into the security posture of the devices that are returning to the office. After more than a year of remote working, devices might not be up to date with the latest security measures, such as patches for vulnerabilities and malware updates. For example, with the widespread adoption of Microsoft 365 and the ease of working offline, it is likely that some users have not connected to the corporate network or other systems that usually trigger updates. Therefore, the risk of compromised devices connecting back to the corporate network must be avoided to prevent threats from entering the infrastructure and moving laterally, which can result in an organisational-wide security breach.

  • Conduct network performance and capacity planning

It is likely that employees who have been working remotely will be accustomed to relying on collaboration tools such as Zoom for communicating with colleagues. Therefore, these users may continue utilising these solutions when back in the office, expecting the real-time voice and video performance they had when working off-network.

Essentially, it takes just one team member to be working remotely for every meeting to be virtual. With more flexible routines and hybrid working, it looks as though this trend will continue for the foreseeable. However, the shift to a hybrid environment will result in a significant increase in voice and video traffic, which can push corporate networks to its limit. Undoubtedly, this could lead to complaints about the overall user experience, especially for companies which adopted SaaS technologies during the pandemic. This can also increase the demand for internet bandwidth, zapping capacity, and cause more general performance issues. 

  • Eliminate dirty workarounds and legacy infrastructure

To keep the business going steadily, many IT departments have made workarounds to support working from home. However, they may not have considered how these processes will affect users returning to the office. For example, some organisations may have rerouted traffic or changed endpoint configurations for updates and infrastructure services, creating instances whereby these services might not be available from the corporate network. In addition, these changes in traffic flow can lead to new bottlenecks across WAN and other links. Therefore, traffic flows must be revisited for their reliability before employees return.

  • Monitoring the infrastructure for technical debt

The last eighteen months of remote working have added technical debt to many corporation’s IT infrastructure. Virtual private networks, remote desktops, jump boxes, and other solutions which were utilised in a short space of time to meet new connectivity demands have increased the overall security risks and associated costs. Therefore, organisations need to evaluate this larger attack surface created by these legacy tools, and remove dangerous infrastructure architectures to avoid serious threats, such as ransomware attacks. 

  • One unified way of working

Since it is likely companies will offer staff the flexibility of working from both the office and home, IT infrastructure must be able to adequately support this hybrid approach. Especially given the fact that employees access the internet directly from home but rely on corporate network connectivity back in the office. Switching between these environments carries new risks, as control mechanisms cannot meet the demands of both worlds yet.

A zero-trust approach to security enables organisations to secure connectivity to the internet when working from the office and remotely. It can help IT teams overcome the security, administration, and cost challenges of multiple solutions. Additionally, zero-trust can remove bottlenecks and capacity headaches by providing a simpler, direct-to-internet connectively model. Before employees head back to the office or embark on a hybrid way of working, corporations should evaluate whether their infrastructure is prepared for this new reality.

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