Deploying Stronger Security for Flexible Work

Today’s flexible workplace

As flexible work environments continue to become common practice, IT leaders face the pressing challenge of deploying stronger endpoint security that allows employees to remain productive while mitigating security vulnerabilities. With 39% of global knowledge workers switching to flexible workplaces by the end of 2023,1 the pressure is building for IT teams to deliver secure access to computing resources wherever employees do their work.

A clear gap remains for IT teams as they navigate how to best support a distributed workforce and an increased level of endpoint management in this new era, where work was previously kept to centralized environments. Sixty percent of IT experts said security was their number-one challenge in managing and maintaining a flexible workplace.2 Managing the increase of endpoints that accompanies remote work, complying with regulatory requirements, keeping devices up to date, and ensuring business continuity have all placed increased pressure on the individuals and teams charged with providing safe, productive access to computing resources.

Simply put, flexible work environments can introduce significant risks requiring a stronger security posture. The benefits employees and organizations gain from a work-from-anywhere approach rely on a digital environment with endpoint security software that can anticipate and prepare for the unknown.

    Thirty-nine percent of global knowledge workers are expected to be hybrid by the end of 2023. Sixty percent of IT experts cite security as the most important challenge in hybrid workplaces. The average data breach costs a business four million dollars

 

 

A deeper dive

Today’s IT teams are faced with four key challenges in providing safe and secure access to computing resources.

  1. Delivering endpoint security software

 The migration of in-office work to work-from-anywhere and the growth of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and  policies give workers more ways to access sensitive information than ever before. The resulting increase of endpoints can overwhelm legacy security protocols, especially when personal PCs are involved. Personal PCs can be harder to safeguard and keep updated than company-provided devices, opening additional opportunities for malicious actors. It’s no surprise that business leaders cite home internet security and leakage of sensitive company data among their top security challenges.3

 

  1. Protecting data and ensuring regulatory compliance

 Every industry has specific guidelines regarding the safe handling of data and private information, which might vary from country to country. Furthermore, businesses must prioritize the safe storage and transmission of their intellectual property. Periodic changes to data protection and privacy laws can compound the challenges facing data and cloud security teams. These teams must be able to move quickly to adapt whenever new legislation is enacted. While policy changes are often intended to improve the way businesses handle private data, the frequency of data breaches continues to increase by as much as 68% year over year.

 

  1. A weak link in the endpoint security chain

Oftentimes the greatest vulnerability in an organization’s security posture stems from the actions of individual employees. Poorly implemented password protocols can provide malicious actors with an easy entry point into an otherwise secure network. Twenty percent of people use the same credentials across multiple websites and apps.5 If those credentials are ever leaked in a breach elsewhere, they could be used to gain illicit access to an organization’s data. It’s no wonder that password attacks have risen by 74% in just one year.5

 

  1. Maintaining business continuity in flexible work environments

Successful flexible work demands uninterrupted access to company-managed data, resources, and tools. Regardless of how resilient an organization’s security protocols may be, some interruptions are unavoidable. A PC could be damaged or stolen from an employee’s home. A lack of security awareness or training can lead to human error and leave the device vulnerable to Shadow IT and unauthorized access. A ransomware attack could cripple a business’s operations—one study found that 93% more ransomware attacks occurred compared to the same period in the year before.6 IT teams must plan for any number of cyberthreats, and what steps they will need to take to restore secure access for employees.

A graph showing a 68 percent increase in data breaches against organizations, a 74 percent increase in password attacks, and a 93 percent increase in ransomware attacks.

 

Deploying stronger endpoint management for flexible work

 

The significant challenges facing IT teams must be addressed head-on with strong endpoint management measures that are flexible, resilient, and capable of handling cybersecurity wherever employees do their work. Failure to do so can leave an organization’s endpoints vulnerable to malicious cyberattacks, which can lead to interruptions in productivity.

A single data breach can cost an average of $4M per occurrence4—and that doesn’t even consider the reputational damage a business can suffer, should the breach be made public. Many organizations are responding to these risks by investing heavily in IT security, which now accounts for up to 15% of overall IT budgets—up 5% since 2020.1

As more devices connect to your network, the larger your attack surface becomes. The influx of unmanaged devices adds additional strain on IT teams as they try to keep everything protected. While it may feel daunting, keeping these devices up to date and every endpoint secure is achievable with the right solutions in place.

 

Securing a flexible and remote workforce

To protect an ever-evolving workforce, businesses are seeking modern solutions to protect them across several key areas:

 

A secure operating system

Flexible work has increased security risks for companies of all sizes. This shift demands an operating system like Microsoft Windows 11 Enterprise that can remain secure across any endpoint and device connected to the network.

 

Endpoint management

Nearly every organization wants to optimize their investments in technology. However, today’s cyberthreats come from all angles, causing reactionary decisions to implement third-party apps to monitor unique scenarios. With an endpoint management solution like Microsoft Intune, these organizations can merge their tools to manage their diverse endpoint estate.

 

Migrating to the cloud

The transition to flexible work means employees need secure options to get work done—no matter where they are. Companies are looking for simple and reliable options like Cloud PCs with Windows 365 that allow them to connect to the tools they use every day.

 

Upgrading to modern devices

Outdated devices and software are often the most vulnerable to attack. Modern devices like Microsoft Surface or Cloud PCs allow organizations to better protect their data with automatic software updates and notifications when a system restart is necessary.

 

Preparing for AI

Generative and analytic AI offers companies powerful new capabilities to bolster their security and endpoint management. At the same time, companies are facing new, unexpected decisions. They must look at safety and regulatory compliance requirements, data classification, licensing costs, and how best to deploy AI across each team.

 

With the right solution, organizations and IT teams can fortify their flexible workforce by taking the following steps to accurately assess their security and endpoint management needs:

 

  1. Conduct a risk assessment. Connect with your IT and security teams to get a better understanding of your organization’s ability to defend against endpoint vulnerabilities, such as phishing and ransomware.

 

  1. Establish robust security policies like Zero Trust. Having well-defined policies and procedures ensures your organization is maintaining the proper compliance standards. Applying Zero Trust principles treats every attempt at access—regardless of identity or endpoint—as though it’s coming from an open network, requiring verification for every device.

 

  1. Implement endpoint management solutions. Every endpoint that connects to your network needs to be verified, approved, and protected. Comprehensive solutions like Microsoft Intune can deliver AI-powered, multiplatform management and security for flexible and remote workplaces.

 

  1. Require multifactor authentication (MFA). There are several options for implementing MFA. Each one provides an extra layer of security to keep malicious actors from accessing your network.

 

  1. Deploy Mobile Device Management (MDM) or Unified Endpoint Management (UEM). These solutions help save time and reduce complexity for IT and security teams as new endpoints appear on the network.

 

  1. Encrypt sensitive data. Protecting data should always be a top priority—along with making sure compliance standards are met. Implement end-to-end encryption and use analytics to get visibility, drive threat detection, and improve defenses.

 

  1. Regularly update and patch endpoints. Unmanaged devices and legacy equipment, when left idle, become vulnerable to malicious activity. Being proactive and identifying outdated apps and software can quickly mitigate risk.

 

  1. Provide employee training. An educated organization ensures every team and department are aware of malicious behavior and knows what to expect if they come into contact with a threat actor.

 

  1. Establish secure remote access. Virtual private networks (VPNs) create an encrypted connection between remote devices and your organization’s network. It also masks your IP address for added security.

 

  1. Monitor and audit endpoint activities. The third Microsoft Zero Trust principle7 dictates that, in order to minimize damage, you must assume a breach has occurred. Make regular check-ins on endpoints and flag any activity that seems out of place.

 

  1. Regularly test and update incident response plans. As your business grows, maintaining strong security hygiene ensures you’re prepared for the unexpected.

 

  1. Stay informed about evolving cyberthreats. Malicious entities are always finding new and creative ways to steal sensitive data. Make sure your IT and security teams are always up to date on the latest threats and vulnerabilities.

A closeup of a man’s hands as he types on his laptop

Get started with Microsoft solutions that help protect your business

When extended throughout an organization’s entire digital estate, endpoint security can maximize existing technology investments. It allows IT teams to adapt to new challenges and deliver secure access to people, devices, and data.

Making sure you have everything you need to secure and manage a diverse group of workers and computing scenarios is critical:

  • It starts with a secure operating system. Windows 11 offers out-of-the-box protection, including advanced encryption, network and system security, along with safeguards against advanced threats. Empower your employees with a streamlined deployment that’s secure from chip to cloud.
  • This protection can extend and be activated on other types of modern endpoints, such as a Windows 365 Cloud PC—which can be on any device— or Windows 11 devices like Microsoft Surface. Windows 365 is a cloud-based service built for organizations of any size that allows you to stream your personalized Windows experience, including your desktop apps, settings, and content, to any device at any time. It offers secure and scalable power of the Microsoft Cloud and the versatility and simplicity of the PC. Whether you’re working with contractors and interns, or software developers and industrial designers, Windows 365 provides a complete, familiar Windows experience that you can access from virtually any device—creating a more protected, productive workplace.
  • All your devices and endpoints can be managed by consolidating your endpoint management tools with Intune and Intune Suite. With Intune, IT teams can keep your organization safe with unified workflows and strengthened security, which increases efficiency while reducing overall costs.

 

Get started with Microsoft 365

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