Securing Remote Workers in the Time of Coronavirus

Author photo: Larry O'Brien
ByLarry O'Brien
Technology Trends

During the Coronavirus pandemic, everybody that can work from home seems to be working from home.  This huge influx of new remote workers is creating some new cybersecurity concerns and expanding the cybersecurity threat surface.  While these concerns are universal across industries, including IT, banking finance, the manufacturing sector has its own unique set of concerns when it comes to securing remote workers.  Let’s take a look at some of those concerns and what we can do to mitigate them:

Remote Access to Critical Systems

Remote monitoring of production processes has been a significantly growing trend over the past decade.  With the influx of IoT based technologies such as cloud and edge computing, remote access to plant and production data has become more ubiquitous.  The trend of remote monitoring is expanding to include remote operations in many sectors.  Most of the major end-users in the oil and gas industry, for example, are striving to keep as few workers as possible deployed in remote sites that present hazards to safety.  But remote monitoring is also heavily used in water and wastewater applications, power trasission and distribution, and other applications.  In the wake of Coronavirus, the adoption of remote monitoring and operations could accelerate in other industry segments as workers are forced to self-quarantine or shelter in place.  

Securing Remote Workers in the Time of Coronavirus

End users that are considering ramping up efforts to do remote monitoring and operations must keep cybersecurity concerns at the forefront.  Secure solutions exist for remote monitoring in critical production processes.  Not all IoT based systems address the critical cybersecurity requirements for manufacturing and critical infrastructure, or they may rely on third-party partners, so keep this in mind and make sure you are not sacrificing cybersecurity for increased remote access.

Wider Range of Devices with Remote Access

Remote access isn’t just limited to PCs and workstations.  Mobile devices and portable computing platforms are supplanting PCs and workstations in many instances.  Many companies have already implemented “remote operator” programs that allow operators to have greater freedom to roam the plant while keeping an eye on critical operations.  Mobile devices are also popular at the C-level for things like performance monitoring of key processes and plants.  Your remote access plan should address the unique cybersecurity concerns of mobile computing platforms and applications as more workers use these devices both inside and outside of the plant.  

Securing Home Wireless Networks

Most people don’t take the proper steps to secure their wireless networks at home.  Wireless routers are frequently left on vendor default settings, passwords are usually weak, and basic cybersecurity hygiene is not practiced.  Other devices also exist on the at-home network that could pose cybersecurity risks, including other mobile devices, PCs, gaming systems, smart TVs, and smart home products and systems.  Particular care should be taken to ensure that remote workers with access to sensitive data or even live production processes have secure home networks and follow good cybersecurity protocols.  DHS CISA has issued guidelines on how to secure your home networks.  

Opportunistic Coronavirus Cybercrime

As with any humanitarian crisis, criminals and bad actors will take advantage of vulnerable people.  We have already witnessed the proliferation of malware through bogus Coronavirus tracking apps.  The pandemic will also create new opportunities for phishing, malware attacks, and other types of cybercrime and cyberattacks.  On March 16, for example, there was a largely unsuccessful cyberattack on the US Health and Human Services Agency (HHS), so we already know that threat actors are taking advantage of the increased vulnerability during the time of the outbreak to mount cyberattacks.  Increased overall vigilance is required during this time to guard against attacks.  Even the World Health Organization has issued its own cybersecurity guidelines and warnings against phony WHO emails and phishing campaigns.  

If You’re Not Secure, Act Now

If you don’t have a good cybersecurity program in place or you lack sufficient tools, it may be a good time to consider purchasing that cybersecurity management solution or that threat detection and response solution.  Make sure you are incorporating defense-in-depth, that you have the appropriate endpoint protection solutions installed, and so forth.  ARC has comprehensive research on all aspects of the ICS/SCADA cybersecurity marketplace.  

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