Up until the global coronavirus pandemic, working from home was simply an option. Organizations were prepared with an 80/20 model where 80% of users worked on-premises and the remaining 20% could access remote working solutions.

With no end to the lockdown in sight for many, organizations need 100 percent of their staff to carry on with business as usual (BAU) tasks without entering the office. From being an option, remote working has evolved to become the “new normal”.

In my previous blog post, I highlighted the four personas of today’s remote workers and discussed how organizations are getting business ready for the new normal.

A majority of users, as evidenced by the exponential user growth during the pandemic, are mobile and power users working on personal devices instead of company issued assets. The last line of defense, the endpoint, has now truly become the first line of defense.

Doubling down on security

To support the legion of staff working remotely, organizations need to focus on security.

To put things into perspective, consider this: Cisco has always had a strong remote work culture in place. On average, we used to see 100,000 unique monthly users (employees, contractors, and partners) with an average of 500,000 connections per week on the company’s virtual private network (VPN) to securely access our data and applications remotely.

As a result of the outbreak, however, all 60,000 of the company’s staff — a large proportion of who are mobile and power users — are working from home. This has required us to scale up our infrastructure quickly and build a 20-member team, to manage the change and to ensure connectivity for our teams across the globe.

Of course, a VPN is only one of the several tools that Cisco deploys to ensure security when its data and applications are accessed remotely. A variety of others are used as well such as Duo and AMP, to protect every user, irrespective of which of the four personas they belong to.

Overall, Cisco’s remote work solutions protect 17.5 million users across the globe — with double-digit growth forecasts for the past several weeks. Duo, our user and device verification tool has more than 11.8 million users and our VPN serves over 1.4 million users currently.

The demand we’re seeing is directly proportional to the fact that organizations are not only preparing to thrive in the new normal but also understand that working from home has many advantages that must continue to be leveraged.

A holistic approach

Cisco’s strong knowledge of networking, infrastructure, and security make it a great partner for anyone looking to deploy a trusted, remote working architecture, especially in crisis mode.

As a result of the pandemic and global lockdowns, we see large enterprise projects stalling and small and mid-sized businesses struggling to manage the uncertainty in the market. The immediate need is to help customers work securely from home. It’s about simple solutions that can be executed immediately — and that’s what our customers trust us to do.

When a top Asian utility leader in the power distribution business, with critical IT as well as OT requirements, learned that it needed to safeguard its staff by enabling them to work from home as a result of the pandemic, at short notice, it turned to Cisco.

Industrial networks are built on low power digital sensors, actuators, and controllers, which can be a potential weak chain link. Cisco Cyber Vision provides a comprehensive security for the OT networks and extends strong IT policy and compliance requirements to the OT networks.

Here’s a snapshot of the secure remote working solution we deployed to help the critical power infrastructure organization’s field engineering substation support its ERP operations and to provide secure real time load distribution services to its customers.

We worked with the company’s IT Ops team to help them understand the four essential security controls when deploying remote working solutions, analyzed the existing state of their IT landscape, and quickly helped roll-out relevant products and solutions from our portfolio.

Working with a global partner with a strong portfolio allowed the company to not only ensure staff could securely work from home but also that customers who depended on the utilities provider to keep the lights on didn’t suffer at all.

Being in the utilities space, achieving scale with remote working deployments, at speed, means ensuring that regulatory compliance, risk management, and security measures are all rolled-out simultaneously.

Cisco’s experience deploying such architectures over the years played a critical role in the client’s quick transition to work from home.

For such a critical industry, paying attention to security is key to staying in business during the pandemic, especially with the government cracking down on the use of tools and solutions that cause the organization to be vulnerable to cyberattacks.

Most government bodies and organizations around the world, for example, have already issued guidance to players in key industries around the use of a voice and video-based collaboration tool that has prominent security flaws, as highlighted by security analysts as well as the media.

Our client also realized that working with a single vendor to bring operational synergy across integration, orchestration, management, and scaling was a boon because it made it possible to get ready for the “new normal” seamlessly, quickly, and efficiently.

A multi-vendor option solution might seem like a good idea at first, but the amount of time required to configure and reconfigure it as the organization’s needs change nullifies any benefits, even when an organization has the luxury of time. In the current scenario, time is what customers don’t have.

Further, managing a complex ecosystem makes it harder to adapt from a security standpoint, responding to malicious activity as the number of remote users grows.

Upgrading your security posture to thrive in the new normal 

Since security is a key building block of all of Cisco’s products and solutions, we understand the key to preparing any client’s network to thrive in the new normal has a few key ingredients.

The first is to validate the host and provide strong user authentication using tools and technologies that provide a seamless experience while also amplifying security layers when required.

The second is to offer secure transport irrespective of the medium and device used. This is obviously key to anyone working from home during the crisis, using personal, untrusted devices.

The third involves ensuring that the right device and right user has access to the right apps, data, and services, at all times. From an IT Ops standpoint, this means deploying suitable policies, governance, and auditing systems.

Given the various security elements involved with enabling remote working, Cisco’s experience proves very valuable to clients — whether they’re looking to optimize the various segments of their architecture or starting from a reactive position and looking to quickly deploy, scale, and be agile in this new normal.

While everyone is praying for the pandemic to end soon, some of the remote working solutions and policies being implemented now are expected to serve organizations well into the future.

This is why Cisco’s ability to offer a flexible, multi-domain architecture, deployed using the zero trust approach, covering the workplace, workloads, and the workforce is critical to organizations looking to make a long-term play in terms of upgrading their business continuity plan.

In my next blog, I’ll explain more about the zero trust framework, why it is key to collaboration today, and how Cisco’s secure web conferencing tool Webex is quickly becoming embedded in the digital fabric of the financial services industry to help reimagine client conversations as well as IT architectures for the new era.