working from home
© Zivica Kerkez |

In this insightful interview with Theresa Lanowitz, head of evangelism for AT&T Cybersecurity, we discuss the long term outlook of working from home and the need for tougher cybersecurity measures

1) What is unique about the working landscape today and how does it compare with what we’ve seen in the past?

Organisations had to move to a remote workforce suddenly, and many were not prepared either with the hardware needed, the number of VPN connections needed, or an overall plan for business continuity and cybersecurity resiliency. Typically, when there is a big move such as remote working or cloud transformation, there is a logical and well-planned progression – tests are run, communication about the change is thorough and concise, and the workforce has plenty of time to adapt to the impending change. The current state of affairs forced organisations to have a completely different workforce almost overnight.

Some of the major cybersecurity issues that organisations must address and solve immediately are:

Unsecured home network connections

Remote workers may need to connect to the corporate network and the internet through home Wi-Fi connections not controlled by the IT organisation.

Hopping off the VPN

VPNs can help to protect traffic to the corporate network, but if the VPN introduces latency, remote workers may “hop off” to access internet and web-based apps.

BYOD or corporate device supply issues

Remote workers may need to access corporate networks and data from personal laptops and mobile devices not managed by the IT organisation.

Remote devices at work and play

Remote workers may use corporate laptops and mobile devices for personal use outside of work, including use by other people in the same household.

2) Can you give some examples where economic events have given rise to new ways of working?

The adage of “past behaviour predicts future behaviour” seems to hold true in many cases. With other major events such as September 11, 2001 (9/11) and the global financial crisis (GFC) business and technologies changed. As we emerge from our current situation we should expect business and technologies to change. It is becoming clear that business models will shift to focus more on the core competencies of the business. It also seems that many will want to continue to work from home for a variety of reasons, and most organisations are appearing to be receptive to the work from home concept. In fact, there are businesses with a 100% work from anywhere business model. This is attractive to workers who may not want to commute into a congested urban environment, workers who may not want to relocate for a job, or workers who believe productivity is greater with less casual interruptions.

Historically, examining significant events of the past 20 years, specifically, September 11, 2001 (9/11) and the 2008 global financial crisis (GFC) it is important to realise that both major events accelerated technology shifts.

In the aftermath of 9/11, organisations were keen to achieve labour arbitrage. This led to the now-common use of offshore business partners. To be clear, organisations were already using offshore partners prior to 9/11, but the impact of the event accelerated the broad acceptance of offshore work.

In the case of the global financial crisis, two technology categories clearly emerged as a need to manage and control CAPEX; open-source software and server virtualisation in the data centre. Prior to the forcing function of the global financial crisis, open source was starting to make inroads on the fringes of an enterprise. The need to preserve capital accelerated the mainstream and widespread adoption of open source.

Another technology to emerge as part of the global financial crisis is server virtualisation in the data centre. Virtualisation was clearly a way to reduce CAPEX and ultimately OPEX. Ultimately, server virtualisation led to the advent of cloud computing.

Both of these historical events created a forcing function for technology, and this current event will likely prove to be the same. As we emerge from this historical event, organisational structures and business models will certainly change. Prior to the current historical event, the movement to a remote/work from home workforce was already in motion. External factors contributing to this movement include reducing commute times, higher housing costs near urban centres, and the desire to attract a broad and geographically diverse talent pool.

The current situation accelerated the move to a remote workforce overnight. Once we emerge from this historical event, it is likely that working from home, for those who can, will be the norm.

Over the past couple of years, it has become clear that businesses can’t keep up with fighting against cybercrime. This realisation will be one of the clear business realisations to emerge from the current event. The move to a Managed Security Service (MSS) provider will be an effective way to help organisations attain cybersecurity efficiency within their budget.  

Organisations of all types want and need to be able to innovate safely and deliver value for its customers. As business models shift and change, this need for innovation of core competencies will become a mandate. Another mandate will be the need to reduce the complexity and cost of fighting cybercrime. Marrying these two mandates means that security practices and functions will move to a MSS model. Organisations will demand the MSS be a trusted advisor and the services be delivered by an established brand.

At  AT&T Cybersecurity, we are committed to helping organisations reduce the complexity and cost of fighting cybercrime. We are ready to be a trusted advisor on the road to cybersecurity resiliency. AT&T has been helping people adapt to technology changes and progress for over 140 years. Through managed security services (MSS), organisations gain access to a team of over 2,000 security professionals and eight global security operations centres (SOCs). This helps clients gain a tremendous economy of scale.

3) How does resiliency come into play in these situations and what can we expect in the next six months to a year?

Resiliency is a word we hear quite a bit these days…resiliency of people, resiliency of the economy, resiliency of business; resiliency will certainly be one of the words of 2020. In addition to people, the economy, and business, we have to think about resiliency of cybersecurity.

With apologies to Ralph Waldo Emerson…cybersecurity is a journey not a destination.

Our current situation has made cyber adversaries more determined. These adversaries are taking advantage of the fear and uncertainty surrounding the current global health and economic situation as well as sudden shifts and exposures in IT environments to launch attack campaigns. It can be a challenge for IT organisations to stay on top of emergent threat activity in the wild. 

To really be resilient, organisations must make sure their cybersecurity posture is robust enough to withstand an attack and bounce back fairly unscathed. 

Organisations must also provide for a resilient network.

The network is a reflection of an organisation’s business. It is comprised of the infrastructure, applications, devices, and people. All of this makes every organisation’s business goals and problems unique.

Typically, an organisation’s network is running smoothly. But, how resilient is it when experiencing a DDoS attack, the victim of a phishing incident, or are faced with paying ransomware to keep business operational? 

Keeping the network resilient to overcome the cybersecurity threats that are now part of modern business is critical and cybersecurity helps achieve that. 

4) How can organisations hope to operate quickly AND with the right security in place when deploying a remote working structure?

As businesses move to focus on core competencies, a move to managed security services is logical and practical. The need for cybersecurity professionals will remain strong, the difference is the company these professionals will work for – in the future MSS organisations will employ the majority of these professionals.

Cybercriminals are determined and motivated. These bad actors are out in full force right now to exploit every vulnerability possible. Teaming up with an MSS provider that is capable of providing state of the art threat intelligence, continuous monitoring, and managing the right security capabilities at the right time is an urgent need at this time.

All organisations want to and need to achieve cybersecurity efficiency within their budget. To help achieve that efficiency within budget, having a trusted advisor is critical.  

5) How can organisations overcome the biggest challenges of this new digital transformation?

Working to make sure that cybersecurity is a business enabler and not just a technology is critical. This is something that organisations with a mature cybersecurity practice know and have implemented.

Not every organisation is mature enough to have cybersecurity with a seat at the proverbial table. However, every organisation can take part in making sure this rapid digital transformation minimises disruption. 

Starting with awareness training for employees is effective and inexpensive. This is something the cybersecurity team can accomplish through roundtables, lunch and learn sessions, or other internal communications such as videos or newsletters. 

Conducting a risk assessment is another great way for an organisation to take the pulse of the current state. A risk assessment lets organisations know the biggest gaps in cybersecurity practices and reality.

Engaging with a consultant to help the organisation mature is strongly advised.

Any final thoughts?

 Adversaries are determined. They do not take time off during a crisis. In fact, this is when they thrive. Old attacks are updated to take advantage of remote working, the desire for current news on our situation, and new ways of living and working.  

Be aware. Understand what your cybersecurity team is doing to help to provide protection for you, your data, your intellectual property, and your network. Ask for cybersecurity help.


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