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Ultimate guide to secure remote access

This comprehensive secure remote access guide outlines the strategies, tools and best practices to provide anywhere access while protecting data, systems and users.

Secure remote access is one of the most critical aspects of networking and security today -- even more so because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced employers to expand and fortify their remote work capabilities. Companies need to provide employees and business partners remote access to resources, such as applications and data, without compromising security. In this guide, we examine how businesses should rethink key aspects of their secure remote access strategies, set policies accordingly and get to know the entirety of the secure remote access ecosystem.

What is secure remote access?

What it means to provide secure remote access has changed considerably in the past few years as a result of new technologies and the pandemic. At its most basic, secure remote access is having location-agnostic connectivity among enterprise users and centralized applications, resources and systems, whether cloud-based or on premises.

The following technologies can contribute to secure remote access:

  • VPNs;
  • intrusion prevention systems/intrusion detection systems;
  • Secure Access Service Edge (SASE)/software-defined perimeter;
  • firewalls;
  • cloud access security brokers;
  • zero-trust network access;
  • virtual desktop infrastructure; and
  • identity and access management (IAM).

Some of these technologies are explained in deeper detail below. 

Who is responsible for secure remote access?

Although remote access tools such as VPNs and firewalls are typically under the purview of network teams, in this new era, cybersecurity teams tend to lead and manage the policies, processes and technologies associated with ensuring secure remote access.  

Cybersecurity teams assess and mitigate the risks of remote access, including the following:

  • password sharing;
  • software that violates an organization's security standards;
  • unencrypted personal devices and lack of cyber hygiene; and
  • minimal to no patching.

Their responsibilities involve combating the top cybersecurity risks by strengthening and measuring the effectiveness of access controls, monitoring and managing remote access activities, keeping remote access rules current and testing remote access operations.

Remote access requirements

The diminishing power of VPNs

One tactic organizations use to combat the vulnerabilities associated with working remotely -- especially if employees are using consumer-grade systems -- is to reestablish VPN standards. This entails enforcing basic protections such as strong passwords, multifactor authentication, role-based access and encryption.

That said, many experts believe VPNs have not scaled well to meet the accelerated needs of secure remote access for a hybrid workforce. As a result, VPNs will likely be replaced with more nimble technology over time. 

Setting secure remote access policies

A hallmark of secure remote access is the underlying policy that safeguards access to and the use of enterprise resources, such as data, databases, systems and networks.

Cybersecurity expert Paul Kirvan recommended defining the following procedures and processes, among others:

  • criteria for granting employees remote access;
  • technologies used for remote access and minimally required security features;
  • types of IT resources to be remotely accessed;
  • network resources needed for remote access;
  • IT employees charged with executing remote access security activities;
  • emergency procedures in case of remote access security compromise; and
  • integration of remote access security with other data protection activities.
Remote access security policy template

Remote access security policy template

This free, editable remote access security policy template provides suggested wording for the policy and identifies areas to be completed by the policy author(s). The template can be modified in any way your policy development team sees fit.

Learn about the secure remote access ecosystem

Secure remote access touches just about every aspect of enterprise networking and security. Over the past two years, TechTarget has created a series of guides to help IT and security professionals get up to speed on important technologies and concepts. Below is a list of the guides relevant to secure remote access that will offer a comprehensive understanding of how disparate technologies come together to form the secure remote access ecosystem.

Zero trust. Cybersecurity and IT teams are realizing that words like perimeter and trust are quickly becoming outdated as borders dissolve and the base of users that need access to resources expands. Zero-trust networking is emerging as an alternative to traditional perimeter security.

SASE and SD-WAN. Pushing security closer to users will be critical to preventing bottlenecks, improving performance and ensuring maximum resource protection. SASE and SD-WAN are two options for avoiding congestion at central points, such as the data center, and for speeding response times for users.  

Cloud security and SecOps. The cloud has been instrumental in enabling cybersecurity teams to oversee remote access with adaptive strategies, policies and tools. From creating a virtual security operations center to rapidly updating and deploying policies, the cloud unburdens businesses from the onus of costly and complex on-premises systems. 

IAM. Managing a vast universe of users will require a more sophisticated approach. IAM has evolved to be a suitable solution for secure remote access needs. With cloud, on-premises and hybrid options, IAM is a flexible way to protect network resources while adapting to the diverse user needs of remote work environments.

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