Secure Remote Access 101

The world has experienced a remarkable shift in how we work, communicate, and interact in an ever-evolving digital environment. Remote access technology allows users to interact with their devices and systems as if they were physically present where the device is located. It has become an essential requisite for businesses and individuals, enabling increased productivity, flexibility, and convenience in various scenarios without compromising security. Remote access has become increasingly prevalent, especially in the post-COVID era, with more and more employees working remotely. Another scenario when remote access comes into play is when IT technicians log into employees' devices remotely to troubleshoot and fix technical problems.

What is secure remote access?

Secure remote access provides the means for authorized users to gain remote access to systems, resources, or networks after verifying exactly who they claim to be. It adds an additional layer of security to the remote work paradigm so staff members, collaborators, or vendors can use corporate resources without jeopardizing confidential data.

How does secure remote access work?

Secure remote access collectively refers to the security measures, policies and technologies that organizations use to identify, verify, and authenticate users, devices, or applications to sensitive resources within the corporate network. It is essential to specify who can access which systems, when they can do so, from what devices, and what tasks they can execute before connecting to a remote session. Based on least privilege or role-based access control (RBAC) principles, the user is given limited access to the specified systems in the company network following successful authentication. Without the need to provide passwords, remote sessions (RDP, SSH, etc.) are penetrated across encrypted, secure routes. All online meetings are videotaped for forensic purposes along with real-time monitoring capabilities.

Without these security and authentication measures in place, remote access can invite a host of risks that can put the organization’s sensitive assets at risk.

Remote access risks to watch out for

One of the biggest risks associated with remote access is the vulnerabilities associated with endpoints. With hybrid work culture taking precedence, a vast majority of inbound connections for organizations now originate from employees’ home networks or from other insecure geographical locations. Remote devices in these networks can easily be subjected to malware and phishing assaults, especially if proper security measures, such as antivirus software, firewalls, or user awareness, are not in place. This in turn puts the entire organizational security at stake.

Lack of physical control makes endpoints prone to credential theft and data breaches. Unwanted access by family members or coworkers or exposure to other environmental hazards is also unsafe. Another big problem is excessive privileges. This gives rise to two kinds of problems. Malicious or disgruntled employees having more privileges than required can gain legitimate access to mission-critical resources, steal more credentials, and establish backdoors, thereby vandalizing the organization's entire security chain. Also, non-malicious users who have excessive privileges might cause unintentional harm by accessing and exposing sensitive information.

Legacy remote access technologies and their security pitfalls:

Before understanding remote access security, let’s quickly look at some of the legacy remote access technologies used and their security pitfalls.

  • Virtual Private Network (VPN): VPNs create a private connection between a remote device and a safe and encrypted channel. It stops unauthorized individuals from listening in on traffic and enables the user to work remotely.

  • Secure Shell (SSH): SSH is a network protocol that uses cryptography to enable secure remote access to devices over an unsecured network. It is frequently used in Unix-like operating systems for secure file transfers and remote administration.

  • Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP): Remote Desktop technology from Microsoft enables users to connect to and manage distant computers across a network. Technical support and remote administration are two common uses.

  • Web-based remote access: Some systems can access remote devices through a web browser thanks to their web-based user interfaces that typically use secure protocols like HTTPS to provide data encryption and safety.

All these remote access tools, while they help organizations with uninterrupted access, there are some specific disadvantages and potential security hazards. For example, while VPN provides a secure, encrypted connection to the organizational network, if the login credentials are lost or stolen, the workplace network may be vulnerable to off-site hacks and end up being compromised. Due to their lack of contemporary security features, susceptibility to well-known attack vectors, and limited integration with current security standards, outdated remote access methods pose major security threats.

Why is securing remote access important?

Securing remote access is critical for safeguarding sensitive data, ensuring network security, and adhering to compliance regulations. By deploying comprehensive remote security procedures, organizations can limit risks and maintain their resources' confidentiality, integrity, and availability.

  • Data security: Remote access frequently requires data transmission over untrusted networks such as the Internet. Now that the physical perimeter is no longer completely reliable, incoming access should be thoroughly verified with parameters user ID, device ID, and location to ensure it is legit. Secure remote access can be used to build secure tunnels that protect data from interception or modification.

  • Malware and attack risk mitigation: To gain unauthorized access, malicious actors may attempt to exploit flaws in remote access software or employ brute force approaches. Strong passwords, two-factor authentication, and regular software upgrades all help to lower the likelihood of successful assaults.

Organizations should adhere to security best practices, carry out routine security audits and vulnerability assessments, train users on secure remote access procedures, and implement multi-layered security measures to safeguard remote access systems and the data they handle to address these security concerns. Remote access security is a significant worry for businesses, but proper training and effective communication can help elevate the overall organizational security to an extent. However, relying on manual processes alone to reinstate remote access security is highly cumbersome and error-prone. Some degree of automation is required to address this pressing issue.

Implementing a secure remote access strategy 

Secure remote access is the capacity to safely and securely access a computer network or resources from a different location. It involves establishing a safe link between a person or device and the network to enable authorized users to access files, programs, and systems remotely. Developing a secure remote access strategy demands a systematic approach. Let’s quickly look at some of the best practices organizations can adopt to enforce remote access security within their network.

Remote access security best practices

It is critical to incorporate a secure remote access strategy while building a solid and dependable remote access infrastructure. Some of the essential best practices include:

  • Single Sign On (SSO): SSO is a user authentication strategy that uses a single set of login credentials to authenticate users and grant them access to remote apps, servers and services throughout the IT infrastructure.

  • Password Management: Password Manager locks down passwords, access keys, files, and other sensitive data in your enterprise in a central vault and protects them. It also promotes password hygiene across the organization and helps administrators enforce tight internal controls.

  • Context-aware access: Ensure that only legitimate users gain access to privileged systems by bringing in attribute-based access control where attributes such as user ID, device ID, and location are thoroughly verified.

  • Least Privilege: Access permissions for users, accounts, and computing processes are restricted to only those resources needed to accomplish legitimate tasks. Standing privileges should completely be eliminated and users should be given elevated privileges only when absolutely required, that too for exactly for the amount of time needed to perform their activities.

  • Granular Access Control: Define and control which applications can be run by users with varying levels of privileges. Whitelist trusted applications and prevent unapproved and malicious applications.

  • Audit & Monitor: Define and control which applications can be run by users with varying levels of privileges. Whitelist trusted applications and prevent unapproved and malicious applications.

Securden helps enterprises successfully enforce remote access security and protect vital systems and data from unwanted access and cyber threats through strong authentication capabilities, privileged session management, least privilege controls, and endpoint security.

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