IT teams cater to the sometimes daunting, often mundane task of persistently securing and maintaining thousands of endpoints. Running health checks and pushing routine updates and patches, and trying to remediate vulnerabilities can take up a tremendous amount of time in departments with many other pressing priorities. Yet, it is vital to work to secure the network. With cyberattacks on the rise, even the tiniest of holes are vulnerable to exploitation.
That was the situation before COVID-19.
In March, when the world changed and entire workforces went remote, the shift up-leveled the strain on IT considerably. And it did so virtually overnight. IT teams were not only tasked with the responsibility of getting everyone up and running, but they also had to do it with as little impact on security and network performance as possible. This has required a lot of time, effort, and decision-making to ensure that the highest priority items receive attention.
The vast majority of remote employees connect to their corporate networks via VPN. With the explosion of traffic now running over VPNs in the new work-from-home world, bandwidth issues inevitably arise, and network performance suffers. These factors lead to tough choices. System hygiene tasks, routine updates, and patching are often placed on the back burner to ensure productivity and efficiency.
When the bulk of employees are in the office, endpoint management is executed according to a carefully planned schedule to interfere with day-to-day business operations. With the entire workforce (including IT) connecting remotely, it’s a whole different ball game. Essential updates can take significantly longer over a VPN and an employee’s home internet. Some might not even be able to be completed. Still, teams try as hard as they can to make updates, issue patches, and distribute software as part of a new routine — just not with the same regularity. And new schedules usually involve some inconvenience, making them more likely to get pushed for other priorities.
The problem is bad actors know all of this, and they are taking advantage. A quick scan of cyberattack stats posts COVID-19 shows just how prevalent attacks have become. If endpoints are not carefully managed and systems are not updated, both hard and soft costs could be considerable.
Networks have to run at optimal levels during business hours, or trouble ensues — deals fall through, customers migrate away, teams cease to function as they need to, and employee productivity slips.
But IT teams are being called upon to fix a seemingly impossible situation by keeping systems and networks up to date at the same time. They are used to operating under strain, but factoring in the work-from-home component to their already heavy workloads asks a lot. As Gartner noted in a recent report, many employees are working from home for the first time. Walk-up IT support has vanished, and IT has to configure, secure, and manage a broader set of devices and apps than ever before. Teams are now required to do more in a less-than-optimal environment, causing help desk tickets to rise and impeding employee productivity.
In the face of myriad essential priorities, the administrative aspect of endpoint management becomes a productivity drain — and in this economy, businesses of all types are trying to streamline and reduce the kinds of tasks that cost time and money. Yet, if an organization wants to stand any chance of maintaining network security, it has to be done. In this scenario, how do teams reconcile all of the demands on their plate to make the best use of human and financial resources?
Offloading for the Greatest Good
One of the fastest, easiest, and most comprehensive fixes is by adopting automated solutions. Early in the automation craze, there was a reluctance in accepting software that didn’t require much from team members. Still, over the last few years, automation has come a long way — providing the ability to find, diagnose and fix problems, for example, intelligently.
COVID-19 has accelerated automation even further by developing innovative cloud-based solutions for content distribution (patches, applications, and other updates) that don’t hog bandwidth or sacrifice network performance. With nothing more than an internet connection, software, updates, and patches can be reliably and securely deployed at great speed and scale. Automation tools can do this by harnessing split-tunnel VPN architecture, making it possible for endpoints to get content directly from other internet-facing computers or a content delivery network (CDN), such as Azure CDN.
These types of solutions guard endpoints against potential security breaches while keeping employee machines functioning at peak levels. Simultaneously, they allow IT teams to be more productive by focusing less on administrative, maintenance tasks and more on higher-order priorities and help desk tickets. Thus, automation of this kind can increase efficiency dramatically.
Remote work continues for the foreseeable future, and as organizations embark on digital transformation outside of the pandemic, automation will become increasingly necessary. The solutions that help organizations rapidly respond to security breaches and vulnerabilities, patrol and enforce configuration management policy, and maintain windows OS health while preserving network performance and employee productivity will be the big winners.
As first published in Toolbox.