Remote control

Remote working is likely to be the next major global business trend but with every remote worker comes a very real security risk.

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By  Sean Robson Published  November 11, 2008

My mother is a veritable fountain of handy sayings but to be honest I disregard most of them. However just this past week I have had cause to stop and think about one of her very favourites, everything comes in threes.

The same two words have thrice cropped in the last seven days up in my e-mails, interviews and telephone calls. Drum roll please, remote workers. We increasingly live in a world where the only limit to our ability to work is imagination. Forget working from home, now it’s about working from everywhere and at anytime.

The numbers speak for themselves; IDC predicts that there will be 9.9 million telecommuters working worldwide by 2009. At the same time, Gartner predicts that more than 41 million employees globally will use tele-working for at least one day a week throughout 2008 and I am guessing a number of them will be doing business here in the Middle East.

This agility and flexibility that remote working presents is undeniable and if anything can make employees even more productive but too quote my mother once more, what you make up on the swings you lose on the roundabouts.

You see with every remote worker connecting to the internal network comes a very real although often neglected security risk. According to one IT expert consulted this ignorance has to do with what he termed the “inability to place a value on data”. It seems a very silly excuse to this journalist, surely in a world which increasingly buys and sells data and leverages it for profit, enterprises would be able to simply realise that losing data is akin to losing money, no matter how much.

The same expert predicts that only over the next 18 to 24 months will people begin to appreciate just how valuable the critical data really is. Now there are two issues when it comes to protecting the data accessed by remote workers.

Firstly there is the technical aspect of remote users logging into the network and so opening the infrastructure up to possible attack. This is a headache for the IT manager, he needs to set up various firewalls, anti-virus protection and install all manners of software.

The second aspect is protecting users from themselves. Let’s count the cost of people leaving their smartphone in a coffee shop or their USB stick in the port at the internet café. Open the newspaper, the costs are there.

Should employees be treated as children? Yes, but they should be held to stricter standards because they are highly paid children. I am not suggesting we employ minders but instead enterprises need to invest in training their employees on remote ‘etiquette’ and constantly remind them of the importance of a secure mentality. It’s as simple as deactivating the bluetooth when finished so that malware can not be sent over the line or data taken off the device.

It’s too late to put the genie back into the bottle so to speak but it’s never too late to coach vigilance and promote good business practices amongst employees. Remote working is very likely the next major global business trend and so users and IT professionals alike will need to work together in order to safeguard their valuable data and critical infrastructure.

It’s not a suggestion. It’s a reality.

Sean Robson is the assistant editor of Network Middle East.

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