Enhancing Remote Network Security: Alternatives to Traditional VPNs

Enhancing Remote Network Security: Alternatives to Traditional VPNs

Since remote and hybrid working will become increasingly common, businesses must understand both the drawbacks and dangers of VPNs in the age of remote work

VPNs, which were once the standard for protecting remote employees, were created to give a small portion of the workforce secure access to corporate data and systems while most employees remained in the traditional office setting.

Beginning in early 2020, COVID-19’s widespread adoption of remote work brought about a significant shift. Since then, it has become customary for many workers to work regularly from home, with few going into the office regularly.

VPNs are insufficient for remote working and hybrid environments, and relying too heavily on them to protect many employees working from home poses significant risks. Initially, VPNs assisted businesses in managing a small number of staff members or outside contractors who required remote access to specific systems while working remotely.

Additionally, it has harmed user experience and employee productivity, contributing to increased friction. Since it increased the surface area for potential attacks, using VPNs on such a large scale was unforeseeable and has caused a security nightmare for IT teams.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, most businesses quickly transitioned to a fully remote work environment. Some of these businesses did so insecurely, deploying simple VPN solutions to let employees access the same systems from their homes and blindly relying on their hardware.

As remote and hybrid working becomes common, businesses must understand both the drawbacks and dangers of VPNs. They should be aware of how alternative solutions can better secure the future of hybrid working.

VPN flaws for remote work

Since VPNs typically extend an organization’s network, if the user’s network is insecure, there is a greater chance that an attacker will exploit it. This risk grows as home networks have more security risks. The fact that VPNs only offer encryption for data traveling between two points necessitates the deployment of a standalone complete security stack at one end of every VPN connection to inspect data traveling through it.

When enterprise resources are increasingly hosted in the cloud and accessed by remote workers, it becomes more challenging to meet this requirement. VPNs do not offer the weakest attack link secure third-party access.

Most VPNs offer only bare-bones security through traffic encryption and frequently do not mandate the use of MFA. If an employee’s home computer is compromised while on the clock, the remote access virtual private network (VPN) will be compromised too, and the company’s internal network and sensitive information will be threatened.

The problem of unpatched, malware-infected devices is another important one. Typically, human-driven malware like botnets, backdoors, and RATs [remote access Trojans] appear in this scenario. The malware can impersonate the user and gain access to all the systems it has access to after the attacker establishes a remote connection with the device. This malware can then spread throughout the internal network.

Only if they are updated frequently will devices be sufficiently secure. Even if an organization has the most secure VPN connection in the world, the VPN connection won’t make a difference if the device is not sufficiently patched and poses a risk to the organization.

VPNs also have many issues in terms of productivity and usability. Because VPNs reroute requests through a different server, the connection speed would inevitably change due to increased network latency, a common complaint about VPNs. Additionally, there can occasionally be performance problems with using kill switches and DHCP. Even though VPN security is essential, it frequently comes with unnecessary complexity, especially for businesses using enterprise VPNs.

VPN replacements that are safe for remote working

Organizations must recognize and implement alternative security techniques better suited to safeguarding widespread remote working, whether completely replacing VPNs or supplementing them with alternative options.

Depending on various elements like posture and risk appetite, a business may pursue one or more strategies. However, security experts concur that the following measures are most likely widely applicable to companies.

Zero trust network access

ZTNA, or zero-trust network access, is essentially brokered access to networked data and applications. Before giving access, users and devices are verified and tested. You must adopt a zero-trust mentality and assume that any device or employee account could be compromised. The fundamental functions of a VPN, such as granting access to specific systems and networks, can be performed by zero-trust techniques.

However, with an additional layer of security provided by least-privileged access (down to the individual applications), identity authentication, employment verification, and credential storage, so if an attacker succeeds in infecting a system, the damage is restricted to the resources that this system can access.

SASE: Secure Access Service Edge

Every user and device will be verified and examined before being granted access under a ZTNA model at the network and application levels. Zero trust is only one solution component; we cannot track all end-to-end traffic. SASE [secure access service edge]. SASE is a cloud-based model that combines network and security functions into a single architecture service, enabling businesses to unify their network from a single location and on a single screen.

SASE is a cutting-edge solution to modern businesses’ performance and security requirements. It provides easier management and operation, lower costs, and increased visibility and security thanks to additional network functionality and an underlying cloud-native security architecture.

SASE ultimately provides IT teams with the freedom to work securely in the new norm of the work anywhere, cyber everywhere COVID world, and the ability to function across an organization’s entire workforce.

Software-defined networks for a wide area

VPNs rely on a router-centric model, in which routers route traffic based on IP addresses and access-control lists (ACLs) to distribute control across the network. However, software-defined wide area networks (SD-WANs) rely on software and centralized control functions that can manage traffic based on priority, security, and quality of service requirements, following the organization’s needs.

With virtualized software that can manage application-level policies and provide a network overlay, SD-WAN products replace conventional physical routers. They can run traffic over public broadband and private MPLS links and automate the ongoing configuration of WAN edge routers. The result is an enterprise edge-level network with improved security, lower costs, and reduced complexity.

Identity and access control, as well as privileged access control

Compared to conventional VPNs, which typically only demand a password, solutions that integrate a thorough verification process to verify the validity of login attempts offer higher protection. IAM (Identity and access management) has a security feature that connects session activity and access privileges to the specific user, allowing network managers to confirm that each user has permission to access resources and monitor each network session. IAM solutions frequently offer additional access levels to ensure that users can only access the resources they can use.

Although this VPN alternative or paired option manages identity protocols to enable more detailed activity monitoring, it does not offer additional security for privileged credentials. Privileged access management (PAM) is required to securely handle secret accounts’ credentials.

PAM tools concentrate on managing privileged credentials that access critical systems and applications with a higher level of care and scrutiny. In contrast, identity management establishes and authorizes individual users’ identities.

Also Read: Social Engineering Attacks Impact on Businesses

Desktop-as-a-Service or virtual desktop infrastructure

Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS) solutions, also known as virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), basically stream computing from the cloud (or from an on-premise server) so that nothing resides locally on the device. Sometimes businesses use this instead of VPNs, but user authentication and device checks must be performed to secure access. Unlike traditional VPN, the advantage of this is that it does not allow data duplication from the virtual session onto a local client.

Encryption-based security is typically available for VPNs. Users should carefully examine the security features to ensure they are adequate when assessing VPN candidates. VPNs also have several restrictions. The main issues are related to data security. Vendors might monitor user online activity and use that data, like selling customer information to other vendors.

Numerous VPN options are available to provide end-to-end encrypted, remote access, depending on budgetary constraints, security requirements, and the need for increased use of remote access.

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