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Shift to Remote Workforce: The Need for Remote IT Support
More than half a year into the pandemic, many have come to accept that office life as we know it is unlikely to come back – at least not for the foreseeable future.
As of September 2020, Statistics Canada reported that a large number of Canadians continued to adapt to COVID-19 by working remotely, with over twice as many people working from home (4.2 million) than those who usually do so (1.9 million). The work from home set-up, however, has opened up cybersecurity challenges that never existed with the office-based workforce, which, in turn, calls for remote IT support.
Cybersecurity Challenges with a Remote Workforce
Here are some of the cybersecurity challenges faced by organizations with remote workforce:
Patching refers to the application of a security update that fixes security vulnerabilities. In the past, when people still used to work in the office, patching is easily done by walking into the office and patch computers that need patching.
With a remote workforce, workers are no longer in the office but working at home. Patching workers’ computers, especially whenthey’re using their personal computers is a challenge.
Timely patching is important as threat actors are quick in exploitingunpatched computers. Microsoft, for instance, recently warned that threat actors are actively attempting to exploit the security vulnerability in Windows Server operating systems designated as CVE-2020-1472 and commonly called “Zerologon”.
Microsoft reported that even as the company had released a patch for Zerologon last August 11th, a surge of Zerologon exploitation has been observed since September 13th, following the publication of several proof-of-concept tools that exploit the Zerologon vulnerability. CVE-2020-1472 is a security vulnerability that essentially turns an attacker into an IT administrator, allowing the attacker to change the computer password of Windows Server operating systems with the Active Directory domain controller role. Active Directory is Microsoft’s proprietary directory service that gives IT administrators the capacity to authenticate computers within a network.
According to Microsoft, prior to exploiting the Zerologon vulnerability, one attacker was observed exploiting the CVE-2019-0604 vulnerability in SharePoint to initially access Windows Server operating systems. Microsoft described this vulnerability as a remote code execution vulnerability that exists in Microsoft SharePoint when the software fails to “check the source markup of an application package”. An attacker who successfully exploits this vulnerability, Microsoft said, could run arbitrary code in the context of the SharePoint application pool and the SharePoint server farm account.
According to the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security, Canadian organizations are being exploited via unpatched devices and inadequate authentication. “In each case, a threat actor was able to compromise infrastructure exposed to the internet because it was not properly secured via 2FA and/or because software running on an exposed server was not patched to the latest version,” the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security said.
The work from home model forces many organizations to allow remote workers to remotely access network resources, opening up a plethora of cybersecurity vulnerabilities.
Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP)
One of the weakest links in allowing remote workers to access corporate networks is by exposing Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) to the internet. RDP is a proprietary protocol developed by Microsoft that allows a Windows user to connect to Windows workstations or server over the internet.
Kaspersky Lab reported that since the start of the global pandemic in March of this year, brute force attacks against RDP has rocketed across almost the entire planet. Brute force attack uses the trial-and-error method in which an attacker uses as many username and password combinations in the hope of guessing the correct one.
“The lockdown has seen the appearance of a great many computers and servers able to be connected remotely, and right now we are witnessing an increase in cybercriminal activity with a view to exploiting the situation to attack corporate resources that have now been made available (sometimes in a hurry) to remote workers,” Kaspersky Lab said.
“Attackers target RDP servers that use weak passwords and are without multi-factor authentication, virtual private networks (VPNs), and other security protections,” Microsoft said. “Through RDP brute force, threat actor groups can gain access to target machines and conduct many follow-on activities like ransomware and coin mining operations.”
Virtual Private Network (VPN)
The use of Virtual Private Network (VPN) is one of the measures in securing RDP. This too has been the subject of attacks by threat actors.
In August of this year, the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security issued an alert warning organizations of the active exploitation of the vulnerabilities in the VPN products of Fortinet, Palo Alto and Pulse Secure. The software vendors of these VPN products have all issued a corresponding patch prior to the issuance of the security alert of the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security.
Role of Remote IT Support
As the world moves towards a remote workforce, it’s not surprising that IT support is now being done remotely as well.
The recent exploitations of CVE-2020-1472, CVE-2019-0604 and VPN products highlight the importance of timely patching. A remote IT support can assist your organization in patch management, including planning and prioritizing software and firmware updates within a network. If not properly planned, a patch can cause extended downtime, resulting in revenue loss.
A remote IT support can also assist your organization in using network perimeter security devices such as Firewalls and remote access gateways for remote workers and remote IT administrators.
Steve E. Driz, I.S.P., ITCP