Tens of millions of U.S. workers transitioned to remote work in the past year and most expect to continue doing so for the foreseeable future. With increasing numbers of cyberthreats targeting the remote workforce, the challenge for most organizations is to enhance security in ways that don’t inhibit user productivity.

IT teams have been playing catch-up for months in their efforts to support the at-home workforce. According to one study, more than 80 percent of remote workers had rarely or never worked from home before the pandemic, and most had neither the tools nor the guidance to do so securely and effectively.

In many instances, workers had to perform essential business tasks on older PCs and laptops that lacked adequate processing power and security protections. Unsurprisingly, they often experienced slow access speeds, poor connectivity, unreliable application experiences and frequent downtime that hindered their productivity.

Security Shortcuts

Security is often a casualty of this environment. When company security policies and practices seem too cumbersome, workers tend to ignore them or find workarounds to make their jobs easier. Shortcuts such as reusing passwords, sharing sensitive information by email, leaving apps and systems unpatched, or connecting to unsecured Wi-Fi networks all increase the risk of data loss, virus infections, ransomware attacks and more.

Lacking the built-in security measures that they enjoyed in an office setting, remote workers have become targets for a range of threats. IT leaders almost unanimously (98 percent) reported an increase in cyberattacks and other security issues within the first two months after moving to remote operations, according to one global study.

While security is obviously a high priority, IT leaders also understand that the success of long-term remote work strategies may ultimately hinge on delivering an acceptable user experience. Nearly nine in 10 IT decision-makers say they must rethink their current security practices and implement solutions that better support the user experience.

Here are a some ways that organizations can protect an expanding threat surface without impeding productivity:

Improve remote access. Virtual private networks have been the standard remote access technology for years, but the staggering increase in remote traffic is overwhelming VPN capacity. Users commonly report unreliable connections, and unpatched VPNs have also become a leading attack vector. Cloud-based remote access solutions facilitate connections through a separate security layer in the cloud, where encryption, authentication and other security measures are applied without impacting performance.

Simplify endpoint protection. Remote workers use a variety of devices to access network resources, but they don’t always stay current with updates and patches. Endpoint protection solutions automate patching and configuration updates, relieving users of an extra burden while improving threat identifying and mitigation.

Automate firewall management. Nearly all firewall breaches are caused by misconfiguration issues stemming from inefficient and error-prone manual management processes. Automated management solutions combine analytics software with data integration, network modeling and vulnerability intelligence to reduce errors, improve security and relieve staffing burdens.

Filter content. Content-filtering solutions provide another level of protection for remote workers by scanning web applications, identifying malware signatures and examining text and email messages to protect against data leakage. They can also enforce access policies on remote and mobile devices that are used outside the network.

Enhance data protection. Data loss prevention (DLP) solutions limit the chance of information leaking to outsiders. DLP tools monitor outbound communications as well as host-based activities such as copying files to removable media. DLP scans will generate alerts if any of these activities violate company policies.

Work with a specialist. A managed security services provider can implement, manage and maintain a wide range of solutions, allowing you boost remote security while offloading some IT staffing workload. Additionally, a provider can conduct regular assessments to identify any new gaps that could create risk.