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A five-point strategy for secure remote access

Systems with remote access are not only more difficult to secure, they pose a greater risk to the network than systems that sit behind the corporate firewall. Here are best practices for securing remote access endpoints.

Managing secure remote access is a tough job. Because remote systems may directly connect to the Internet rather...

than through the corporate firewall, they pose an increased risk to your network environment. Virus and spyware protection, and a general VPN network policy isn't enough to keep these systems – and the network they connect to -- safe. Here are five best practices for providing secure remote access.

1. Software controls policy

Create a policy that defines the exact security software controls that must exist on systems with remote access. For example, you may need to spell out that antivirus, anti-spyware and desktop firewalls must be installed and configured in a specific manner with the latest signatures, along with which vendors are acceptable. The best practice is to distribute the policy along with the connection setup or similar instructions for end users. Often a zero-tolerance policy is best for endpoint security. End users should meet a set of guidelines before connecting to the network. No AV, antispyware and desktop firewall? No remote access allowed. The policy should also spell out what ports and services may be exposed on the system.

2. Endpoint security management

Choose a vendor that offers comprehensive endpoint security management and policy enforcement as part of their VPN or remote access solution. It is best to mandate that all remote users use the enterprise sponsored VPN client. That's the only way you are going to get true policy compliance and assurance of endpoint security posture. Your chosen remote access solution should be able to refuse connections for endpoint systems that do not meet the policy compliance checks. Ideally, the solution should tell end users which items are out of compliance so they can remediate the situation prior to attempting to reconnect. This cuts down on help desk calls.

3. Enforce corporate policy compliance

Inform end users that corporate security policy extends to their remote desktop when connected to the enterprise network. For example, no file sharing and other disallowed use while connected to the corporate network.

4. Reporting features

Reporting on end user compliance is critical. Most of the solutions mentioned above offer reporting capabilities to keep admins updated on the status of the connecting endpoints. Depending on the number of users you have to manage, it may be wise to set up alarms that e-mail admins when a machine that is significantly out of compliance tries to connect. In some cases administrative intervention may be warranted -- especially when other access methods to the network may exist.

5. Periodically review policy and reports

Every couple of months, review policies and reports to identify trends and patterns in access violations. This is important to ensure that the policy and technical controls are addressing your remote access security needs. If you find trends in access violations, add or modify policies accordingly.

About the author
George Wrenn, CISSP, ISSEP, is a technical editor for our sister publication Information Security magazine and a security director at a financial services firm. He's also a graduate fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

This article originally appeared on

This was last published in July 2005

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