With coronavirus infections continuing to rise in many areas of the United States, remote work will remain in the future for most companies, leading business leaders to speed adoption of a variety of distributed security measures.
In particular, the model of zero trust has gained momentum, moving from a possible approach to security to a necessary piece of surviving in the future. Underscoring that, more than 70% of organizations indicate that they are considering adopting a zero-trust model for security following the pandemic and the move to extensive remote work, according to a survey conducted by virtual private networking firm NetMotion Software.
The zero-trust framework, which treats every part of the IT infrastructure — users, devices, services, and data — as potentially compromised, has become a necessary approach to post-pandemic business, says Christopher Kenessey, the firm's CEO.
"The perimeter model worked because you had your protections and your corporate assets and your employees all behind your firewalls," he says. "But now a good chunk of your critical assets are behind the firewall, but all your employees are not, so you're missing a big part of the picture."
Last year, the concept of zero trust had already started to gain interest, driven by businesses relying more on cloud services, employees looking to work from anywhere, and executive seeking to digital transform their companies. Most organizations did not have the technology in place to secure remote devices with constant authentication nor the level of visibility necessary to monitor the security of mobile devices operating outside their corporate firewall.
Yet, with the pandemic came remote work, and with remote work came more threats. A survey in May conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Upwork, and Stanford University found that more than 50% of workers were working from home, compared with only 15% before the pandemic. Meanwhile, a separate survey by NetMotion found that employees clicked on 49% more risky URLs in the month to June 19 compared with January 2020.
"Because zero trust is a philosophy, you have to think about people and processes before you get to the technology," says Rik Turner, principal analyst for cybersecurity at market researcher Omdia, a sister company to Dark Reading. "You need to be able to make sure that the human beings and contractors, whether all of those potential users can be granted minimal access rights and monitored through the life of the session."
While an analyst at Forrester Research coined the term zero trust in 2010, the concept was widely used in military agencies the decade before, and many of the pillars of the framework came out of the Jericho Forum, a group of companies that banded together in 2004 to discuss the IT-security trend of the collapsing perimeter.
Yet the technology gained adherents over the last two years, as many companies sought digital transformation that allowed for mobile workers, extensive cloud infrastructure, and global operations.
However, not until remote work became the norm for many workers did the need for a decentralized security model really hit home, says NetMotion's Kenessey. More than three-quarters of firms consider securing remote access to be the top spending priority, and while only 10% of firms had little-to-no visibility into remote workers' security, more than half of security teams were still dissatisfied with their level of visibility, according to the NetMotion report.
"Overnight, everyone had to take this seriously and scale up their infrastructure around remote access," he says. "They are going to have to treat remote access as a necessity from an investment standpoint for the near future."
While workers are focused on getting their work done in the new remote world, security professionals struggle to keep them secure. Nearly 90% of remote workers have had trouble accessing applications and data remotely. The greatest concerns for security teams are employees visiting risky URLs or phishing sites, accessing inappropriate content on work devices, and connecting to insecure Wi-Fi networks, according to the NetMotion report.
"The tools and applications that have worked best inside an office environment may not work for decentralized workforce," the report states. "Likewise, the firewalls and other security infrastructure that protects office workers doesn't extend well to remote workers."
With more than three-quarters of firms still having four or more on-premises applications that remote workers need to access, virtual private networks will likely not go away, the report adds. But the pandemic has put more urgency into efforts to create a more efficient and secure infrastructure for remote workers.