Across the country businesses and public agencies alike are holding virtual job fairs and summits and talking about the effects of the virtual workforce. Faced with skilled labor shortages and the pandemic-driven move to remote working, the public and private sectors are addressing the fact that virtual workforces are part of the long-term future.
How to enable the workforce to be productive and secure is a primary concern, given new employees may not be familiar with best practices in secure, remote work computing, or long-standing employees may be working with remote devices that do not meet required security standards or using devices they haven’t updated recently.
One solution to this hurdle is the virtual desktop, such as Microsoft’s Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD), which can be an easy way to deploy and manage desktop and application virtualization via a service running in the cloud. Using a virtual desktop solution can separate the user from application and company data, protecting access to the corporate network and sensitive data.
If your organization has successfully navigated the pandemic so far, with no major attacks at the remote device level, you may wonder what security improvements a more robust virtual desktop or cloud-workspace deployment offers.
Here are several considerations:
- A reduced ransomware attack surface. Local devices are the gateway to a ransomware vector infiltrating the network. Given staff shortages, it is difficult for IT teams to manage, maintain and update local devices, thereby creating more threat vulnerability. Using virtual desktops with a properly updated and configured cloud environment will reduce the attack surface. It will lessen the chance of ransomware using a local device to encrypt or launch an attack.
- Better protection of critical data. Cybersecurity professionals have all seen major data breaches begin at one device, with one phishing mistake or one too-casual opening and/or sending of a file that wasn’t properly encrypted. The solution is separating business critical applications and data from the local device, or endpoint. Virtual desktops make this possible by separating the user from sensitive data and implementing access control policies so critical data is properly secured and only accessible to those who truly need it.
- Tighter access controls. Virtual desktops are a perfect illustration of how a strong access management control system in place can limit an organization’s exposure to security threats. With physical devices, it is difficult to protect contents of the device if someone malicious physically gets control of the device. In virtual desktop environments, access management controls determine who gains access and who doesn’t. There is no concern about physical access to an endpoint because sensitive company data is now being stored virtually in the cloud and not on a local device.
- Built to manage at scale. IT and security professionals benefit from the ease of managing virtual desktops in groups. Staff can save hours of tedious and time-consuming tasks like patching. Security updates can be easily and centrally administered to hundreds of machines within just a few hours with the right technologies.
- Fast backup and recovery. Using automation, IT staff can backup virtual desktops to ensure continuous data protection. In the event of data loss, IT can easily recreate virtual desktops and restore data and applications.
Making security work remotely
Whether the virtual desktop is for a longer term remote/virtual worker or one just entering the virtual/hybrid workforce, the security benefits of virtual desktops will be most effective if the user experience (UX) is not a headache.
A seamless, non-intrusive UX is a major factor in driving adoption of virtual desktops’ security controls. In fact, a satisfying UX is essential to convince a new employee that virtual desktops are the preferred approach for their job. If IT can explain the added value and advantages from a security and company perspective, as well as what’s in it for the end-users – adoption will be successful. The employee can see that a virtual desktop enables them to work from everywhere, affording them more flexibility, yet giving them access – via the cloud – to their applications and data now stored separately from their endpoint device.
Virtual desktops are particularly beneficial for seasonal and other temporary workers, or contractors who need to toggle between customer sites. They can use their personal devices without adding threats to the network since all access controls are already in place.
Two other practices should also occur to promote a secure hybrid/remote work environment:
- Company executives and influencer/managers within the company need to buy into the need to have the best access controls via virtual desktops. They will carry the message that virtualization works to everyone’s advantage if all workers follow safe computing guidelines.
- These messages need to be clear and expectations set on processes like data exchange, collaboration tools and worst-case scenarios: warnings that downloading rogue apps (shadow IT) are a threat opportunity.
A recent Gallup poll found that the majority (56%) of U.S. workers were “always” or “sometimes” working remotely earlier this year. With 44% of those working remotely reporting they would still prefer it even after the pandemic restrictions are lifted, it’s clear the work from anywhere era is here to say.
Virtualization, and virtual desktops, are fast becoming a standard in the compute environment. By using best practices in automation, access controls and critical data storage and protection, IT security professionals can make virtual desktops a powerful tool in end user productivity.